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House Democrats narrowly clinched a landmark victory on a sweeping health care overhaul Saturday night, voting 220-215 to deliver President Barack Obama a key win on his No. 1 domestic priority.
The measure, which passed with only one Republican vote, represented six months of hard-fought compromises and deal-making among Democratic lawmakers.
Rep. Anh Joseph Cao (R-La.) was the sole Republican to vote in favor of the legislation. By voting for the bill, Cao denied Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) the unanimous GOP vote he had sought against the bill.
Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the bill.
Obama issued a statement late Saturday praising the House for passing the health care bill.
Thanks to the hard work of the House, we are just two steps away from achieving health insurance reform in America, Obama said. Now the United States Senate must follow suit and pass its version of the legislation. I am absolutely confident it will, and I look forward to signing comprehensive health insurance reform into law by the end of the year.
Leaders continued high-stakes negotiations late into Friday night to break a potentially ruinous deadlock over abortion language and spent Saturday putting the finishing touches on locking down a bare majority of support for the package.
Two social policy disputes over abortion and immigration that emerged in recent weeks as major hang-ups for the majority lingered into Saturday evening, providing a final burst of drama in a debate that never lacked for it as Democrats struggled among themselves to craft the most ambitious remake of the health care system in a generation.
In the end, on abortion, anti-abortion Democrats won out against their majority of pro-abortion-rights colleagues when Republicans joined them to approve a change tightly restricting access to the procedure under new health care programs. That the amendment got a vote at all was a major victory for a small clutch of anti-abortion Democrats.
Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the architect of the anti-abortion push, said a compromise had been negotiated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on the abortion issue, but it fell apart Friday night after Pelosi said she could not get Pro-Choice Caucus Democrats to endorse it. Stupak said the compromise would have included a permanent ban on the public insurance option providing abortion coverage. But the compromise would have had just an annual ban that would have to be renewed on the private plans offered in the new national exchange, instead of the permanent ban lawmakers ended up endorsing.
The deal enraged abortion-rights supporters, who spent Saturday trying to find the votes to sink it. The Pro-Choice Caucus is furious and is going to do everything we can to defeat the Stupak amendment, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said, adding that Pelosi herself was furious, too. DeGette blasted the amendment as probably the biggest limitation on a womans right to have an abortion that she has seen in her career. This happened last night in the dead of night, she said.
But those lawmakers ultimately lined up behind the bill on final passage, reasoning that the broader package was too important to oppose and that they could fight to strip the language in conference negotiations with the Senate.