Tuesday, March 23, 2010

President Obama signs health care reform bill; amps up push to sell reform to public

Originally Published:Tuesday, March 23rd 2010, 10:16 AM
Updated: Tuesday, March 23rd 2010, 5:50 PM

Obama emphasized the health care bill's most immediate impacts.
McNamee/Getty
Obama emphasized the health care bill's most immediate impacts.

WASHINGTON - President Obama invoked the memory of past champions of health care reform Tuesday, dedicating the landmark legislation to his late mother and others penalized by insurers as he signed the historic bill into law.

"We are done," Obama proclaimed at 11:57 a.m. after signing his name with the last of 20 pens used to commemorate the momentous occasion.

Underscoring the high drama of the moment, Obama signed the groundbreaking measure in the East Room, scene of so much triumph and tragedy throughout American history.

Vice President Biden captured the special aura of the occasion as he introduced the President to the standing room-only audience.

"History is not merely what is printed in textbooks; it doesn't begin or end with the stroke of a pen.

History is made when men and women decide that there is a greater risk that we cannot bear and in steeling our spine and embracing the promise of change," Biden said.

"Mr. President, you're the guy who made that happen."

In singling out Americans who might have benefited from the bill, Obama began by saying: "I'm signing this ... on behalf of my mother."

Ann Dunham died of uterine cancer at age 52.

During the crusade to pass the health bill, Obama frequently mentioned she had been forced to argue over coverage with health insurers in her final months.

Obama highlighted parts of the new law that go into effect this year, including tax credits for small businesses, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions and a ban on ending coverage for people who become sick.

It also allows young adults to stay on their parents' insurance policies until age 26 and provides a $250 Medicare prescription drug rebate for seniors.

The Senate will next take up the House health care reconciliation bill to make some minor fixes.

It will take most of the week to complete that work unless Republicans figure out a way to delay the process. Busloads of Democratic senators and House members were brought in for the signing.

Vicki Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who championed the health care reform issue, was seated in the front row.

Kennedy's son, retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and his cousin Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, daughter of President John F. Kennedy, also attended.

Obama and Caroline Kennedy blinked back tears as he paid tribute to Ted Kennedy, who succumbed to brain cancer last fall.

The White House is well aware they still have to sell the virtues of the new law to the American people. Obama plans to travel to Iowa City Thursday to promote the legislation.

Obama unveiled his health care plan there during the 2008 presidential campaign.

The President is expected to make more campaign-like health speeches around the country in coming weeks.

White House aides believe the health bill, though well short of a more comprehensive plan preferred by many Democrats, will stabilize and energize Obama's presidency, which has struggled in recent months.

After signing the bill, Obama and Biden thanked more supporters at an Interior Department event.

"Health care is no longer a promise, it is the law of the land," Obama exulted to boisterous cheers.

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