A bill reforming America's health care system, what one Bay Area congressman said was "one of the most important bills in the past 40 years," was approved Sunday night by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Sunday night's vote was the culmination of about a year of debate in Congress, where both the House and Senate passed versions of the bill. The House voted 219-212 in favor of the Senate's version of the bill, which will now go to President Obama's desk to be signed.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., met with the Democratic House Caucus recently and he "assured us that he had more than enough votes to pass the corrections in the Senate."
Garamendi and other local Democratic lawmakers lauded the passage of the bill, which is estimated to increase health care coverage to about 32 million uninsured Americans through provisions such as mandates requiring people to get health care and the barring of insurance companies from excluding customers with pre-existing conditions.
Garamendi was elected to office in November, just days before the House passed their version of the bill.
He said "it's been a struggle" between then and Sunday night's vote, and that Sunday "was a long day, but worth it" to pass legislation that he said was among the most important that Congress has dealt with in the past few decades.
Before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said approving the bill would "make history for our country, and progress for the American people."
Pelosi recalled the Declaration of Independence in her argument for the bill, saying "we are endowed with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This legislation will lead to healthier lives, and more liberty to pursue lives and dreams of happiness."
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said to the House before the vote that Democrats are voting "for all those people that deserve health care but just can't afford it."
No Republicans voted for the bill, which was criticized by local conservatives who said it will increase the country's budget deficit and cause further intrusion by the federal government into people's lives.