The U.S. House of Representatives has begun a final period of debate on landmark legislation to reform the health care insurance system in the United States.
A vote on the measure is expected Sunday. Supporters say the reforms will bring health insurance to more than 30 million Americans who do not have it. Critics say the changes will drive up costs and increase government intrusion in health care decisions. Democratic party leaders are predicting victory. Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larsonsays they have the 216 votes needed to pass the legislation.
Republican Party lawmakers strongly oppose the legislation and say there will be no Republican support for the bill. Sunday afternoon, the White House reached an agreement with anti-abortion Democrats who had been withholding support for the health care bill. To win the support of those Democrats, President Obama said that after the bill's passage, he would sign an executive order reaffirming restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion.
As the House began a series of procedural votes leading up to the final vote on the measure, opponents of the legislation gathered on Capital Hill. The crowd chanted "Kill the bill," and cheered when a group of Republican lawmakers unfurled a flag signifying opposition to the measure (the Gadsden flag) from a Capitol balcony.
The House will vote first on the health care bill passed last year by the U.S. Senate. House lawmakers then vote on a reconciliation bill that resolves differences between House and Senate versions of the legislation.
If the Senate version of the bill is approved, President Obama could sign that legislation into law. The reconciliation bill will be sent to the Senate. If it receives a majority vote there, the package of fixes will be incorporated into the law.
The legislation would extend health care insurance to about 32 million Americans who do not have it. It would require most Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty. It would also ban insurance companies from denying benefits for pre-existing medical conditions, and would limit their ability to impose large rate increases.
The United States is the only wealthy industrialized country without universal health coverage. Various U.S. presidents have pushed unsuccessfully for such legislation for several decades.