President Barack Obama signed the most sweeping U.S. social policy legislation in decades into law on Tuesday, putting his name on a healthcare bill that will help shape his legacy and the Democrats' chances of holding on to power in Congress.
Hours after Obama signed the health care measure into law at a boisterous White House ceremony, the Senate voted 56-40 to start a 20-hour debate on a "fix-it" bill — an effort lawmakers from both parties used to rehash arguments that have dominated Washington for months.
The legislation, which is advancing under a process that requires only 51 votes for final approval, was requested by House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. The bill, among other things, would close the gap in Medicare drug coverage for seniors and would increase subsidies to help families afford insurance, USA Today reports.
Obama said the moment was proof that a polarized political system could still produce substantial change to help everyday people.
"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," the president said. "It is fitting that Congress passed this historic legislation this week. For as we mark the turning of spring, we also mark a new season in America."
He spoke from a lectern in the East Room, surrounded by congressional Democrats and guests who played parts in the law's adoption.
Victoria Kennedy and Obama wore blue plastic wristbands that said, "TedStrong." The bands had been distributed last summer as a sign of support for the senator during his battle with cancer, Los Angeles Times reports.
Obama starts his campaign to tout the bill's contents to the public Thursday in a visit to Iowa City, Iowa, where he first announced his health care plan in 2007 as a presidential candidate. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs welcomed the GOP challenge at the press briefing Monday.
"I think if people want to campaign on taking tax cuts away from small businesses, taking assistance away from seniors getting prescription drugs, and want to take away the -- a mother knowing that their child can't be discriminated against by an insurance company -- if that's the platform that others want to run on ... then we'll have a robust campaign on that," Gibbs said, FOXNews informs.
Designed to revamp the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare industry, the law will extend health insurance to 32 million Americans who currently have none. It will bar practices like insurers' refusing coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, expand the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor, and impose new taxes on the wealthy, according to Reuters.