Obama Signs Sweeping Health Care Bill Into Law

President Obama signed the health care overhaul bill into law on Tuesday, capping a year of heated debate on the future of health insurance in this country. While the Senate still needs to wrap up some unfinished business on a bill to "fix" that new law this week, it's a major domestic policy coup for the president.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Whether or not you support the health-care overhaul, one thing is clear: President Obama made history this morning.

President BARACK OBAMA: Today, after almost a century of trying; today, after over a year of debate; today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.

(Soundbite of applause)

BLOCK: Not long after President Obama signed the bill, opponents filed the first of what could be many lawsuits to try to block it. And the Senate still needs to vote on a package of fixes to the bill. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, none of that dampened the mood at today's White House signing ceremony.

JULIE ROVNER: Democrats from the House and Senate began filing into the White House East Room early for the signing ceremony, snapping pictures - the historic occasion they helped bring about with their votes. By the time the president and vice president appeared, it felt more like a campaign rally - or even a high school pep rally - than a formal ceremony.

(Soundbite of chanting)

ROVNER: Vice President Biden noted the significance of the event in his introduction of President Obama.

Vice President JOE BIDEN: History is made when a leader steps up, stays true to his values, and charts a fundamentally different course for the country. History is made when a leaders passion is matched with principle, to set a new course.

ROVNER: When he turned the podium over to the president, though, Biden whispered his uncensored opinion of the importance of the day, including the F-word - which was, of course, caught on tape.

Vice Pres. BIDEN: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

(Soundbite of applause)

SOUNDBITE OF BIDEN (Whispering to Obama): This is a big (bleep) deal.

ROVNER: But President Obama quickly brought things back to a serious note. He reminded the audience of all the previous presidents who'd tried and failed to change the nation's health-care system.

Pres. OBAMA: From Teddy Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt, from Harry Truman to Lyndon Johnson, from Bill and Hillary Clinton.

ROVNER: For all its complications and technicalities, the president said the bill will, in the end, do one simple thing.

Pres. OBAMA: And we have now just enshrined, as soon as I sign this bill, the core principle that everybody should have some basic security when it comes to their health care.

ROVNER: And he acknowledged how difficult the road has been for lawmakers over the previous 14 months.

Pres. OBAMA: It's also a testament to the historic leadership and uncommon courage of the men and women of the United States Congress, who've taken their lumps during this difficult debate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Yes, we did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROVNER: But in the end, Democrats who passed the bill in both the House and Senate - without a single Republican vote - seemed one, happy family. Well, almost. New York Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner said he was excited to be at the White House today...

Representative ANTHONY WEINER (Democrat, New York): Tempered by a little bit of trepidation about the next 10 days to 10 months in the Senate, dealing with reconciliation.

ROVNER: That was a joke, sort of. The Senate is just now taking up the budget reconciliation bill that contains the compromise fixes to the health bill the president just signed. It's supposed to complete work on the measure this week. But any change in the measure will send it back to the House.

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says he's confident that now that the bill is law, the public will begin to see the actual impact, rather than the misinformation being put out by opponents. He says once voters find that out, it will be good for Democrats.

Representative STENY HOYER (Democrat, Maryland): When they learn the truth, the truth is going to make us victorious.

ROVNER: But for some, this day wasn't about the next election. Among those was Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

Ms. VICKI KENNEDY: I know how happy he would be today - not for himself but for the American people, and what this is going to mean for so many people who have wanted, needed access to quality, affordable health care.

ROVNER: Even with today's bill signing, the debate of how to change the health-care system is far from over. But the terms have definitely changed.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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