President Obama will sign landmark health-care legislation into law Tuesday at the White House without waiting for the Senate to deal with a package of revisions that was also approved by the House late Sunday, administration officials said.
Officials unveiled the plan to use a White House signing ceremony to showcase the benefits of the health-care overhaul after a divided House passed the Senate-approved bill and the separate revisions, known as a reconciliation bill, in a marathon Sunday session that culminated more than a year of political discord over Obama’s signature domestic initiative. By a 219-212 vote, the House approved the Senate bill, handing Democrats a historic victory in a long-running battle to reform the nation’s $2.5 trillion health-care system. The vote for the reconciliation bill was 220-211. No Republican voted for either measure.
Amid continuing recriminations over the bill and Republican protests against it, Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) publicly acknowledged Monday that he was the lawmaker who yelled “baby killer” at Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) as the leader of antiabortion Democrats was speaking on the House floor in opposition to a GOP motion Sunday night. But Neugebauer said in a statement that his remark was misinterpreted and that, in any case, he has apologized to Stupak.
“In the heat and emotion of the debate, I exclaimed the phrase ‘it’s a baby killer’ in reference to the agreement reached by the Democratic leadership,” said Neugebauer, 60, who has represented a swath of West Texas in the House since 2003. “While I remain heartbroken over the passage of this bill and the tragic consequences it will have for the unborn, I deeply regret that my actions were mistakenly interpreted as a direct reference to Congressman Stupak himself.”
The Senate will begin work on the House-passed revisions as soon as Obama signs the broader legislation, said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). The debate will be limited to 20 hours and likely will end early Thursday, Manley said. Then begins a series of votes on amendments, a process with no time limit but that allows for just one minute between votes.
At the moment, Democratic Senate leaders are uncertain how long the voting process will last, although most senators still expect to leave more or less on schedule for a two-week recess scheduled to begin Saturday. Still unclear is whether the GOP will succeed with any of the numerous procedural challenges it is expected to mount against the bill.
Bipartisan discussions with the Senate parliamentarian began late Monday morning, but Manley said Democratic leaders have already vetted the fixes bill for potential hitches and identified no provisions that could be jettisoned and result in derailing the $940 billion package.
White House officials said Obama intends to sign the main bill during an event that will include a diverse group of guests, some of whom the president has used before to promote his health-care plans. He is hoping to do so on the South Lawn, aides said, but that could change if the weather is bad.
Invitees will include doctors and nurses, citizens who will benefit from some of the bill’s provisions, and members of Congress instrumental in passing it. Aides said many details are still in the works, including how big the guest list will be.
That Obama will hold a high-profile event, even though the Senate has yet to approve revisions to the final legislation, indicates a White House desire to capitalize on the historic nature of the bill rather than allow to frame it as an expensive government intrusion into a sector that accounts for one-sixth of the national economy.
The legislation is certain to be a major element of the midterm election campaign season. Obama plans to travel Thursday to Iowa City, Iowa, to underscore the bill’s immediate effects.
In remarks Sunday night, Obama said that the vote “proved that we are still capable of doing big things. We proved that this government — a government of the people and by the people — still works for the people.”