By Arun Kumar
Washington, Mar 22 (IANS): US President Barack Obama savoured a major political victory with the Congress passing a landmark bill to provide medical coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, a feat that has eluded six presidents.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House shortly before midnight, minutes after the final approval of the bill Sunday, the president, who had made health care reform a priority for his administration, said the House vote "wasn't an easy vote but it was the right vote".
The vote wasn't a victory for a political party but for the American people, said Obama downplaying the totally partisan nature of the vote.
The reform plan won't fix everything wrong with the nation's health care system, "but it moves us decisively in the right direction", he said.
In the teeth of fierce opposition from a section of his own Democratic party, the House of Representatives Sunday approved a sweeping $875 billion health care measure, already approved by the Senate by a narrow 219 to 212, after a day of often acrimonious debate.
As many as 34 Democrats joined the 212 Republicans voting en bloc against the bill. The House later passed by 220-211 the package of fixes meant to reconcile differences between the bill the House passed last year and the Senate bill it passed Sunday night.
The reconciliation package now heads to the Senate. However, Obama's signature on the main Senate health care bill would make the reform the law of the land, with or without the changes in the accompanying bill.
Democrats hailed the votes as historic, comparable to the establishment of Medicare and Social Security and a long overdue step forward in social justice.
Republicans contend the plan amounts to a government takeover of the private insurance system that will do little to slow spiralling medical costs.
"This is the civil rights act of the 21st century," said James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the house.
But Republican Paul D. Ryan denounced the bill as "a fiscal Frankenstein" while colleague Virginia Foxx described it as "one of the most offensive pieces of social engineering legislation in the history of the United States".
A last-minute deal Sunday between Obama and House members who oppose abortion paved the way for Congress to pass the bill with Obama announcing he would issue an executive order to ensure that existing limits on federal funding of abortion remain in place under the health care reform bill.
Minutes later, Democrat Bart Stupak, and fellow anti-abortion colleagues said they would support the legislation.
The measure would constitute the biggest expansion of federal health care guarantees since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid over four decades ago.
It would extend insurance coverage to an additional 32 million Americans, according to a preliminary analysis from the budget office.