By Erica Werner, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — A transformative health care bill is headed to President Barack Obama for his signature as Congress takes the final steps in Democrats' improbable and history-making push for near-universal medical coverage.
On the cusp of succeeding where numerous past congresses and administrations have failed, jubilant House Democrats voted 219-212 late Sunday to send legislation to Obama that would extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, reduce deficits and ban insurance company practices such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
"This is what change looks like," Obama said later in televised remarks that stirred memories of his 2008 campaign promise of "change we can believe in."
"We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people."
Obama will travel outside Washington on Thursday as he now turns to seeing a companion bill through the Senate and selling the health care overhaul's benefits on behalf of House lawmakers who cast risky votes. It is most likely that he will sign the bill on Tuesday, but the plans are not yet final, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss as-yet unannounced strategy.
Obama's young presidency received a much needed boost from passage of the legislation, which would touch the lives of nearly every American. The battle for the future of the health insurance system — affecting one-sixth of the economy — galvanized Republicans and conservative activists looking ahead to November's midterm elections.
A companion package making a series of changes sought by House Democrats to the larger bill, which already passed the Senate, was approved 220-211. The fix-it bill will now go to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as Tuesday. Senate Democrats hope to approve it unchanged and send it directly to Obama, though Republicans intend to attempt parliamentary objections that could change the bill and require it to go back to the House.