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Health Care Reform Heads for the Finish Line

Critical vote in the House may come by week' s end

by Tim Walker
The yearlong effort to overhaul the country’s health care could be nearing completion this week as the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress prepare a vote in the House of Representatives by the end of this week.

Specifically, the House Rules Committee will consider the Senate health care bill passed last December. The House would then immediately approve a package of budget-related changes, using a procedure called reconciliation that requires a simple majority vote in the Senate, not a filibuster-proof sixty votes.

Once passed and signed by the president, the bill will provide coverage to more than 30 million people who are uninsured (to go into effect on January 1, 2014), require most Americans to carry insurance and prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people who are sick.

"This time next week,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on Sunday, “will be talking about healthcare not as a presidential proposal but I think as the law of the land."

Despite growing confidence among Democrats, however, House leaders conceded on Sunday that the necessary votes were still not in hand and the Obama administration continues to mobilize support for the bill, even postponing a scheduled trip to Asia by three days to continue lobbying reluctant representatives.

Since the bipartisan health care summit on February 25th, President Obama has campaigned for legislation in key states, beginning in Pennsylvania last Monday and continuing in Ohio today. Obama has been urging nervous Democrats, many facing uphill reelection prospects in the fall, to ignore politics and do the right thing by voting yes.

"What should I tell these Americans?" Mr. Obama said to the crowd in Glendale, Pennsylvania, last Monday. "That Washington's not sure how it will play in November? That we should walk away from this fight?"

National Education Association member Pete Peterson attended Monday’s rally and was encouraged by President Obama’s fiery message.

“It’s time to put up or shut up,” Peterson said after the event. “We cannot let these insurance companies continue to game the consumer. Now is the time for action. Over the next couple of weeks, we all have to let our representatives in Congress know that politics can’t get in the way.”

Lobbying lawmakers in Washington to pass comprehensive heath reform, NEA believes that, if this opportunity passes, it will be probably decades before such an effort can be mounted again. Inaction, says NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, is not an option.

“Every day we delay another ailing child goes without asthma medication, a person with a pre-existing condition is denied coverage and health care premiums continue to rise,” said Van Roekel.

“No bill is perfect,” Pete Peterson said. “But what we have now is a great start in making heath insurance more affordable and bringing down costs. We can build on it later but we need to start somewhere. Let’s get this done.”

House of Representatives Passes Sweeping Health Reform Bill

On Sunday night, the House of Representatives passed landmark legislation that will overhaul the nation’s health care system.

"I want to thank every member of Congress for having the courage to pass this bill," President Obama said. "The vote answers the dreams of everyone who has hoped for reform. This is a victory for the American people."