Washington Anything but jubilant, President Barack Obama awkwardly kept a promise Wednesday he made to ensure passage of historic health care legislation, pledging the administration would not allow federal funds to pay for elective abortions covered by private insurance.
Unlike Tuesday, when a beaming Obama signed the health care law in a nationally televised ceremony interrupted repeatedly by applause, the White House refused to permit coverage of the event. It occurred in the Oval Office in the presence of a small group of anti-abortion Democratic lawmakers who had extracted the commitment over the weekend. The president supports abortion rights.
The political maneuvering occurred as the FBI announced it was investigating threats received by about 10 Democratic lawmakers in recent days in apparent connection with the intensely controversial health care law.
“All threats and incidents directed against members of Congress are taken seriously and are being investigated,” the bureau’s Washington field office said in a statement.
At the same time, Senate Democrats drove toward final passage of a second health care bill, drafted to supplement the first by sweetening benefits for seniors with high prescription drug costs and for lower-to-middle income families who cannot afford the cost of insurance.
Lacking the votes to stop it, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, vowed, “We’ll continue to fight until this bill is repealed and replaced with commonsense ideas that solve our problems without dismantling the health care system we have and without burying the American dream under a mountain of debt.”
That drew a swift rebuttal from Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who said the legislation Obama signed on Tuesday was a “wonderful bill” that would help millions with inadequate coverage or none at all.
The follow-up bill before the Senate included a second triumph for the administration on domestic policy. It generally strips banks and other private insurers of their ability to originate loans to students, in favor of direct government lending.
The government’s savings would raise the maximum amount needy students could receive in Pell Grants, and pump about $2.6 billion over a decade into historically black and Hispanic colleges. The changes would mean the loss of billions of dollars for student lending giant Sallie Mae as well as large financial institutions such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.
The bill passed the House on Sunday and it appeared Reid had as many as 57 votes in hand for its approval, far more than needed. Among 59 Senate Democrats, only Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska announced in advance they would oppose it.
Far outnumbered, Senate Republicans sought votes on politically charged proposals that, while potentially troublesome for Democrats, were doomed to defeat. The first, to roll back the bill’s Medicare cuts, was jettisoned on a vote of 56-42; the second, to strip out special projects, by 54-43.
The day’s events amounted to mop-up actions by the White House and Senate Democrats, one day after Obama signed into law far-reaching changes in the nation’s health care system that had eluded presidents and lawmakers for a century.