President Obama signs historic health care bill
Posted by dorian on March 23, 2010
The final, formal act that ends the long journey of US healthcare reform into concrete legislation happened just before noon this morning, when President Obama signed into law an $938bn overhaul extending coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans.
“Mr President, you’re the guy that made it happen… You’ve done what generations of great men and women have attempted to do, Republicans and Democrats,” said Joe Biden, introducing Obama at the signing ceremony. (Embracing Obama after his remarks, Biden appears to have been picked up on an open mic saying to the president: “This is a big f*****g deal”.)
The signing ceremony took place in a packed East Room of the White House before a crowd of congressional leaders, guests and members of the Kennedy family, including Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Senator Edward Kennedy, who had fought for years to reform America’s healthcare system and remove many of the system’s worst abuses. Representative Bart Stupak, who helped broker the anti-abortion compromise that brought his voting bloc on board and provided the crucial margin of victory, was also in the audience.
Before signing, Obama ticked off a list of the benefits that the new law would bring immediately. “This year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people’s coverage when they get sick,” he said, to loud applause.
The president paid tribute to the work of congressional leaders in “cobbling together” legislation under immense pressure, and had particular praise for Nancy Pelosi. “One of the best speakers the House of Representatives has ever had,” said Obama, as the audience broke into a chant of “Nancy, Nancy”.
Two days after the climactic vote, Democratic law-makers were still in celebration mode, chanting “Fired up, ready to go!”, a call-and-response made famous during Obama’s 2008 election campaign, and taking photos of the scene. If Republican talking points are to be believed, the votes on healthcare reform have doomed Democratic party prospects in the 2010 midterm elections and beyond. But if any Democrats present think so, they weren’t betraying any signs of it this morning.
The bill signed by Obama today is the unamended Senate version, passed by the House of Representatives in dramatic scenes on Sunday night. The Senate will soon take up the reconciliation bill that the House also passed that night, which will amend the bill signed today.
In the traditional manner of American presidents, Obama signed the bill with 20 pens, using a different pen for each letter of his name and title so that the pens can be distributed as momentos to supporters. (One of the reasons Jimmy Carter was disliked by Congress was his habit of using a single felt-tipped pen to sign laws, and then putting it back in his pocket.)