by Tim Walker
March 22, 2010 — On Sunday night, the House of Representatives passed landmark legislation that will overhaul the nation’s health care system. In the same bill, the House also approved essential education legislation that will make college more affordable and assist community colleges in meeting the education and training needs of job seekers.
“I want to thank every member of Congress for having the courage to pass this bill,” President Obama said. “The vote answers the dreams of everyone who has hoped for reform. This is a victory for the American people”
The House first voted, 219 to 212, to approve the Senate health care bill (passed in December), which will now go directly to the White House for President Obama’s signature. After defeating a Republican “motion to recommit” (which would have sent the bill back to committee), the House then approved, by a 220 to 211 vote, a package of amendments to the Senate bill. The Senate must now approve these amendments, which include the education provisions substantially increasing Pell Grants and providing $2 billion in critically needed funding for community colleges.
Majority leader Harry Reid told the House Democratic Caucus on Saturday that a “significant majority” of the Senate supports these changes.
Capping a week of intense lobbying, House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, succeeded in stitching together a slim majority to pass the bill. A key remaining hurdle was cleared on Sunday afternoon when a small bloc of anti-abortion rights Democrats agreed to support the bill.
Once signed by President Obama, the $940 billion health legislation will provide coverage to more than 30 million people who are uninsured (taking effect in January 2014), require most Americans to carry insurance and prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people who are sick. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill will also reduce the budget deficit by more than $130 billion in the first ten years and $1.2 trillion in the second, making it the largest deficit reduction measure since 1993.
National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel called the vote “a proud and historic moment for America.”
“Today’s vote is a marker for our future,” Van Roekel added. “Reforming our health care system and supporting postsecondary education will help ensure that our people are physically ready and that our nation is better prepared to meet the fiscal challenges of competing in a global economy.”
Joining forces with other labor organizations, the NEA spent much of the past twelve months fighting for comprehensive health reform and also played a key role in the higher education provisions. After numerous delays and setbacks, the year-long effort is on the verge of a successful and dramatic conclusion.
“Health care reform has been pursued for more than 50 years, by seven presidents, “ Van Roekel said. ”Today’s vote brings us closer than ever to realizing the goal of quality affordable health care for everyone. NEA calls on the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass a health care reform bill without delay.”