Obama hails progress of healthcare bill

President takes break in Hawaii after legislation clears major hurdle
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The Independent US

President Barack Obama has lauded the US Senate's passage of sweeping healthcare legislation, saying that providing coverage to most Americans would represent the country's most important piece of social legislation since the 1930s.

The Democratic-controlled White House and Congress are now closer to the goal of near-universal healthcare than any of their predecessors. And extending healthcare coverage to 30 million out of nearly 50 million uninsured Americans brings the President close to achieving his top domestic priority.

Hard work still remains, however – the Senate bill must be harmonised with the version approved by the House of Representatives.

Mr Obama, now in Hawaii on a holiday that he delayed until after the Christmas Eve vote, quickly hailed the passage of the bill and said his government is now "finally poised to deliver on the promise" of overhauling a troubled system. He noted that presidents since Theodore Roosevelt a century ago have been trying unsuccessfully to overhaul medical care. "If passed, this will be the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930s and the most important reform of our healthcare system since Medicare passed in the 1960s," he said, referring to federal pension and healthcare programmes for the elderly.

Republicans were unanimous in their opposition. The legislation is likely to shape the 2010 congressional elections and possibly also Mr Obama's 2012 re-election bid.

The 60-39 vote along party lines on a cold winter morning capped months of arduous negotiations and 24 days of floor debate. The Senate bill must now be merged with legislation passed by the House before Mr Obama can sign a final bill in the new year. There are significant differences between the two measures but Democrats say they've come too far now to fail. Negotiations between the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the two bills are expected to begin as soon as next week.