Obama Lauds Health Care Vote

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President Obama said Sunday lawmakers answered the call of history by passing a health care bill. He also noted the enormous pressures brought to bear on lawmakers who may face political consequences this fall, as voters express doubts about the bill.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Last night, just before midnight, President Obama went to the East Room of the White House and hailed the historic passage of the health care bill.

President BARACK OBAMA: Tonight we answered the call of history as so many generations of Americans have before us. When faced with crisis, we did not shrink from our challenge. We overcame it. We did not avoid our responsibility, we embraced it. We did not fear our future, we shaped it.

WERTHEIMER: The president also noted the enormous political pressures brought to bear on lawmakers who may face political consequences this fall as voters express doubts about the bill.

Joining us to talk about the events of the weekend and the potential fallout is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

So Mara, the efforts of House speaker Nancy Pelosi will go down in history, the president said. It's also a huge win for him.

LIASSON: Absolutely, it's a huge win for him. This is his legacy. He came into office wanting to do big things. He said he didn't like small ball. And now he has redeemed his number one promise. Last night he said, this is what change looks like. If it hadn't passed, the damage to his presidency would've been immeasurable. And whether you think this will improve the lives of Americans or be the first step towards socialism, both sides agree this is very significant. But, it did come at a huge price to both the president and the Democratic Congress - who've seen their approval ratings really plummet throughout this debate.

WERTHEIMER: Is there anything that could stop this from becoming law now?

LIASSON: No. As soon as the president signs this, some time this week, it will become the law of the land. But there will be a huge political debate. Republicans are going to push for repeal.

They say Democrats are going to suffer severely at the polls in November; it's going to become the number one issue. Democrats say repeal is a debate they're happy to have. The president is going to move immediately to sell the bill, explain to people what's in it. And Democrats say now they have a concrete achievement to talk about. Victory matters. Facts on the ground, matters. This is the law of the land and there's a lot of elements in this bill that are very popular, and they're going to be talking about it. What we're going to find out is the answer to this big question - which is, is this the high water mark for opposition to this bill; will it just grow, or is it going to dissipate over time?

WERTHEIMER: The Democrats said they had the votes in the Senate to pass that fix bill. What do you think?

LIASSON: Well, they should have the votes, they only need 51 to pass it. But the Republicans want to make a lot of parliamentary objections that could change the bill. And if that does occur, it would have to go back to the House again.

WERTHEIMER: Mara, this is the second health care overhaul you've covered. The first one was, of course, the failed effort by the Clintons in 1993. So, why did this one succeed where that one failed?

LIASSON: Well, you know, Linda, books are going to be written about that question. College courses will be taught about it. But I think, in retrospect, there are a couple things we can say right off the bat. First of all, those deals that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel cut with industry groups held. They kept those groups mostly inside the tent. That was a huge change from 1993.

WERTHEIMER: No Harry and Louise in this debate.

LIASSON: No Harry... As a matter of fact, Harry and Louise were on the other side - making ads for health care reform this time.

Also, there were some key moments. After Scott Brown was elected to the Senate in Massachusetts, there were some in the White House who wanted to scale back the effort, push for a skinny bill. Even the president suggested that was the case. But there's a narrative now emerging that Nancy Pelosi stiffened the president's spine. He ended up agreeing with her to push for comprehensive reform. He held 92 meetings or phone calls with members. And it worked. Of course, there were a lot of mistakes also made along the way. This is not the way the president intended it to be - 14 months after he was elected - getting health care. But, despite the deals, all the parliamentary maneuvers that turned off the public, they did get it in the end and it is a huge victory for the Democrats.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.

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