Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Obama signs health care bill into law

President Obama signed major health care legislation into law on Tuesday. Doug Mills/The New York Times

Well, it is now official. President Obama has signed the health care legislation into law today. From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON —With the strokes of 20 pens, President Obama signed his health care overhaul — the most sweeping social legislation enacted in decades — into law on Tuesday during a festive, at times raucous, White House ceremony.

“We have just now 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,” Mr. Obama declared in the East Room, before an audience of more than 200 Democratic lawmakers, White House aides and others who rode a yearlong legislative roller-coaster ride that ended with Sunday night’s House passage of the bill. They interrupted him repeatedly with shouts and standing ovations.

Moments later, the president sat down at a table, and affixed his left-handed, curlicue signature, almost letter by letter, to the measure, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, using 20 pens that he intended to pass out to key lawmakers and others as mementoes.

He was surrounded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other top Democratic leaders, as well as some special guests: 11-year-old Marcelas Owens of Seattle, who became an advocate for health care reform after his mother died without health insurance, and Connie Anderson, the sister of Natoma Canfield, the Ohio cancer survivor whose struggle to pay skyrocketing premiums became a touchstone of Mr. Obama’s campaign to overhaul the system.

Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who had been a driving force for health care legislation before his death last year, was also by Mr. Obama’s side. Mrs. Kennnedy wore a blue plastic bracelet around her wrist that said “TedStrong,” and appeared emotional after the ceremony.

“I know how happy he would be,” she said of her husband, adding, “It was so meaningful for him, in a very personal way.”

And in the audience sat Mr. Kennedy’s son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island. He was also there, carrying a gift for the president: a copy of a bill his father introduced in 1970 to provide national health insurance. On it, the younger Mr. Kennedy had written a personal message to Mr. Obama.

For Mr. Obama, the bill signing marks a high point of his presidency. For the many House members in the audience, it marks the end of a trying, chapter, and they let the president know it as he remarked that many had “taken their lumps during this difficult debate.”

While President Obama and the Democrats are celebrating this day, Republican attorney generals in 11 states will be filing lawsuits to stop the health care legislation on grounds that it is unconstitutional. From Reuters:

(Reuters) - Less than 24 hours after the House of Representatives gave final approval to a sweeping overhaul of healthcare, attorneys general from several states on Monday said they will sue to block the plan on constitutional grounds.

Republican attorneys general in 11 states warned that lawsuits will be filed to stop the federal government overstepping its constitutional powers and usurping states' sovereignty.

States are concerned the burden of providing healthcare will fall on them without enough federal support.

Ten of the attorneys general plan to band together in a collective lawsuit on behalf of Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

"To protect all Texans' constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation's founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states will legally challenge the federal health care legislation," said Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in a statement.

The Republican attorney generals say the reforms infringe on state powers under the Constitution's Bill of Rights.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, who plans to file a lawsuit in federal court in Richmond, Virginia, said Congress lacks authority under its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce to force people to buy insurance. The bill also conflicts with a state law that says Virginians cannot be required to buy insurance, he added.


In addition to the pending lawsuits, bills and resolutions have been introduced in at least 36 state legislatures seeking to limit or oppose various aspects of the reform plan through laws or state constitutional amendments, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

So far, only two states, Idaho and Virginia, have enacted laws, while an Arizona constitutional amendment is seeking voter approval on the November ballot. But the actual enactment of the bill by President Barack Obama could spur more movement on the measures by state lawmakers.

The debate on health care has entered a new phase, where the Republicans will do anything they can to repeal this bill. Already, the lawsuits are being drawn up to be filed in court. It will probably take a couple of years for this health care bill to end up on the U.S. Supreme Court, but it will get there. Right now, there are four conservative justices on the Supreme Court--Chief Justice John Roberts, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. There are four liberal justices on the Supreme Court--Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor. The conservative justices will probably vote against this health care reform, and the liberal justices will vote for health care reform. The swing vote here will be Justice Anthony Kennedy. The health care overhaul will take time to kick in, around four years. If the court remains at four conservative justices and four liberal justices, then Justice Kennedy will be in a very powerful position to determine the fate of health care reform in this country. I have no idea how Justice Kennedy will rule on health care reform.

Then again, the Supreme Court may change its ideological make-up over the next four years. But for that to happen, either Justice Kennedy, one of the conservative justices, will have to retire from office. This will allow President Obama to nominate a liberal justice, shifting the Court towards a liberal stance. I don't see that happening yet. There is also the possibility that President Obama may be voted out of office in 2012, with an unnamed Republican president coming in. Any Republican president will probably gut the health care reform bill, turning it into a useless program that he/she could then claim the program needs to be eliminated as an example of government waste. But that is way down the political road here.

For now, the debate is on the policy of the health care reform plan. Republicans will be filing lawsuits, calling the bill unconstitutional. President Obama is going into campaign mode, selling the health care reform bill to Americans in Iowa on Thursday. Both Democrats and Republicans will be gearing up for a massive political fight in November, with both claiming that the health care reform bill will allow them to defeat the opposing party. So far, it is too close to call, as Americans will have to digest the specifics of this bill. Then they will decide at the ballot box on whether they approve this health care reform bill, or not.

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