For Obama, Signing Health Bill Only First Step
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Steve Inskeep.
President Obama celebrates a major victory this morning when he signs health care legislation that will eventually extend coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. The president devoted much of his first year in office to pushing that measure through Congress. As he told reporters after Sunday's vote, though, he's not quite finished with health care.
President BARACK OBAMA: Now as momentous as this day is, it's not the end of this journey.
WERTHEIMER: There's still another health care measure to steer through the Senate. And in the months to come, Mr. Obama will be selling the overhaul to a skeptical American public.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: In the last few weeks, President Obama campaigned hard, both in Washington and beyond, to win support for the health care bill. Now that it's passed, he plans to keep on campaigning in hopes of persuading a deeply divided electorate that the measure is not the radical government takeover Republicans have charged, but rather a sensible, centrist solution, ensuring Americans access to health care.
Pres. OBAMA: If you have health insurance, this reform just gave you more control by reining in the worst excesses and abuses of the insurance industry, with some of the toughest consumer protections this country has ever known.
HORSLEY: Starting this year, insurance companies won't be allowed to drop customers when they get sick or deny coverage to children with preexisting illnesses. Young adults will be allowed to stay on their parents' policies until they turn 26. And small businesses that provide coverage for their workers will get tax credits to defray the cost. Mr. Obama will be highlighting those benefits repeatedly between now and the November elections, including a speech on Thursday in Iowa.
White House political advisor David Axelrod thinks it will be easier to sell the health care overhaul once it's the law of the land.
Mr. DAVID AXELROD (White House Political Advisor): We know that this will bring greater security to families and businesses across this country. That's going to become apparent very quickly, and I think that's why there was such a frantic effort to defeat it on the part of the Republicans in Congress, because they knew that this only works for them if they defeat it and they can run against a caricature of what we were proposing. Now they have to run against the real thing, and that's going to be a lot tougher.
HORSLEY: Even as the president signs the main health care bill, the Senate will be taking up a separate measure that would change the new law in significant ways. It would increase the subsidies available to help people buy insurance. It would also increase the penalties for big companies that dont cover their workers. It would postpone a new tax on so-called Cadillac health care plans. And it would eliminate some of the unpopular sweetheart deals used to win over a handful of senators back in December.
Pres. OBAMA: These are revisions that have strengthened this law and removed provisions that had no place in it.
HORSLEY: The so-called reconciliation bill is designed to circumvent a Republican filibuster in the Senate, where Democrats no longer hold the 60 votes it would take to break such a filibuster. Under the reconciliation rules, the majority needs just 51 votes to prevail, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he has them.
Republicans can still put up procedural roadblocks, though, and President Obama is taking nothing for granted.
Pres. OBAMA: Some have predicted another siege of parliamentary maneuvering in order to delay adoption of these improvements. I hope thats not the case. Its time to bring this debate to a close and begin the hard work of implementing this reform properly on behalf of the American people.
HORSLEY: And Mr. Obama says there's other hard work ahead. Health care is just one piece of his ambitious agenda that also includes rewriting financial regulations, improving education, curbing greenhouse gases, changing the immigration system, and through it all, promoting jobs.
The battle over health care has consumed more time a political capital than anyone in the White House wanted. But Axelrod says the victory on health care may provide some momentum for the other big tasks ahead.
Mr. AXELROD: In this town, success begets success, and I think youre far better winning than losing. This was a long, hard slog and the Congress has done a lot of work. But we also have other problems confronting this country, and we're going to continue to push forward.
HORSLEY: President Obama has spoken repeatedly about the need to put the U.S. economy on a new foundation. The health care overhaul represents just one stone in that effort. The White House is hoping it could be a cornerstone.
Scott Horsley, NPR News the White House.
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