Democrats send Obama final health measure

WASHINGTON

Congressional Democrats sent the final piece of landmark health care legislation to President Barack Obama before heading home to face a skeptical – and sometimes even threatening – electorate.

The last legislative chapter in the wrenching national debate over Obama’s health overhaul plan came Thursday night in the House, as Democrats approved – for the second time – a package of fixes to the sweeping health bill Obama signed two days earlier. The measure includes better benefits for seniors and low-income and middle-class families.

In the hours ahead of the vote lawmakers reported isolated threats of violence from a volatile public.

The vote was 220-207, as majority Democrats prevailed despite 32 defections and no Republican support. The same bill had passed the Senate earlier in the day 56-43, with all voting Republicans and three Democrats voting “no.”

Obama was expected to sign the measure early next week.

The fix-it bill was slightly changed by the Senate from a version that passed the House last weekend, necessitating Thursday night’s second vote by the House because both chambers must approve identical legislation before the president can sign it.

“This is the last step we must take to make health reform a reality for millions of Americans,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

Republicans were bitterly opposed to the end.

“We need to repeal Obamacare and replace it with policy that will create more access, create jobs, which will lower the cost of health care and not be a government takeover of the health care system,” said Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.

In Iowa on Thursday to trumpet the benefits of the legislation, Obama said, “We made a promise. That promise has been kept.”

“From this day forward, all of the cynics, all the naysayers – they’re going to have to confront the reality of what this reform is and what it isn’t,” the president said. “They’ll have to finally acknowledge this isn’t a government takeover of our health care system.”

Taken together, the two bills extend coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and aim to crack down on unpopular insurance industry practices, such as denying coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, and to reduce federal deficits by an estimated $143 billion over a decade.

Most Americans would be required to buy insurance for the first time or face penalties if they refuse.

The second of the two bills also presented Obama with another victory, stripping banks and other private lenders of their ability to originate student loans in favor of a system of direct government lending.

Associated Press writers David Espo, Alan Fram, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Jim Abrams and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

By ERICA WERNER – Associated Press Writer
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