March 24, 2010 2:00 am
President Barack Obama sealed the first triumph of his presidency when he signed historic healthcare legislation into law yesterday, realising a goal that had eluded generations of Democratic leaders.
The signing ceremony also marked the beginning of a concerted effort by Democrats to sell the legislation to large numbers of Americans still sceptical of the bill, as the party tries to stave off a potential backlash in November's congressional elections.
In an illustration that the battle is not yet over, 13 US states filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the measure just minutes after Mr Obama signed it into law. They assert that the legislation violates state's rights provisions in the US constitution. The White House has said it expects the suit to fail.
Mr Obama dedicated the signing of the bill to his mother, who he said was forced to argue with insurance companies in the final months of her life as she was dying of cancer.
"We are not a nation that scales back its aspiration," Mr Obama said. "We don't fall prey to fear . . . we are not a nation that does things that are easy. We are a nation that does what is hard, what is necessary, what is right."
In a sign of how the Democratic caucus has been energised by its legislative victory, the president entered the bill-signing room to chants of "Fired up, ready to go", a familiar campaign slogan. In a demonstration of the partisan nature of the victory, not a single Republican was in the room.
Mr Obama signed the bill flanked by congressional leaders, citizens who the president said would benefit from the new healthcare law and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of Edward Kennedy, a senator and champion of reform. The bill is designed to insure 32m more Americans but will take years to implement and cost about $950bn ($690bn, £625bn) over 10 years.
Mr Obama used 20 pens to sign his name on the legislation so that he could give them away as tokens of appreciation to lawmakers, including Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and Harry Reid, a senator.
The formal event did not mark the end of the Democrats' year-long struggle to pass healthcare legislation, however. The Senate will today begin debating a series of "fixes" to its original healthcare bill, which was passed by the House on Sunday night. Those fixes will strip the law of special favours that were added into the original bill to win the support of conservative Democratic senators last year.
Republican senators say they will delay the process by offering dozens of amendments to the fixes under the so-called reconciliation bill and challenging the use of a budgetary process to pass the legislation with a simple majority.
Mr Obama said he believed the Senate would pass what he called "improvements" to the legislation "swiftly".
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