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House clears historic health bill, GOP targets Nevada Democrats

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AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama, right, looks at Vice President Joe Biden, left, after making a statement to the nation Sunday night following the final vote in the House of Representatives for comprehensive health care legislation, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, March 21, 2010.

Updated Sunday, March 21, 2010 | 10:30 p.m.

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California laughs as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland speaks during a press conference after the House passed health care reform in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sunday, March 21, 2010.

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This photo provided by the White House taken Sunday, March 21, 2010, shows President Barack Obama talking on the phone with a member of Congress in the Chief of Staff's office at the White House. Aides, from left are, Phil Schiliro, Sean Sweeney, Rahm Emanuel, Jim Messina, and Dan Turton.

WASHINGTON -- As protesters kept vigil outside the Capitol, the House made history Sunday night by approving health care legislation that will provide coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and reform unpopular industry practices while promising to reduce the federal deficit.

No sooner than the House secured the first votes on President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority than Republican candidates and campaign committees attacked Nevada’s Democrats and pledged to oust them from office in the fall for their votes.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who faces a tough re-election this fall, said during a floor speech that she would not be intimidated by those running $1.3 million in ads against her. Titus had been among the first lawmakers to vote.

“I made up my mind, wanted to do it and I did it proudly,” Titus said after the final votes were cast at 11:30 p.m. Washington time. “I do believe we were making history.”

The House voted 219-212 on the bill the Senate passed Christmas Eve, and then voted 220-211 on the reconciliation bill that makes changes sought by House members. No Republicans voted for the bills.

House Democrats were hugging one another, shaking hands and signing copies of the inches-thick bill after the votes. Republicans, many of them cross armed, were more somber.

The reconciliation bill now heads to the Senate, which plans to take it up as soon as Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assured nervous House members over the weekend he has the commitment of a “significant majority” of senators to pass it.

In a statement after the bills’ passage, Reid said the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats understood “this was never about politics; it has always been about people who are struggling every day to keep their families healthy without going broke. This is about the scores of people we hear from every day who need greater security and stability in their health care.”

Reid has said he believes the Senate can pass the reconciliation bill by the end of the week.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley said any delay could further increase distrust between the two houses. “They better get this done,” she said.

The galleries were filled with onlookers, and a line stretched into the hallway of those waiting for a seat. The Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was in a front row.

Inside the chamber, the debate was fierce and unyielding, a testament to the deep divide between Democrats and Republicans – and the country – on Obama’s signature domestic priority.

Long after the sun had set on the Capitol, a group of tireless protesters remained outside chanting “Kill the Bill.” Even as the votes were under way late in the night, the protests continued.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer opened the evening debate comparing Sunday night’s vote to those that passed Social Security, Medicare and Civil Rights legislation into law generations ago. The gavel being used will be the same one that pounded down during the Medicare vote of 1965.

“It is a historic choice,” Hoyer said. “A choice we will be honored to make.”

But Republicans warned of what Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska called a “trillion-dollar tragedy” and Republican Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona called a “bailout for the insurance industry.”

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the minority leader, taunted Democrats, asking if they had read the entire bill and its amendments.

“Hell no you haven’t!” he thundered.

Republicans have vowed to try to repeal the bill, if passed, and touted the support of state governors who have pledged to sue, believing the bill’s mandate that all Americans must buy insurance is not constitutional.

“This bill will not last,” said Republican Rep. Joe Barton of Texas.

Developments continued throughout the day as House leaders narrowed on the 216 votes needed for passage. The longstanding issue of abortion coverage gained ground with the White House’s announcement that Obama would sign an executive order following the bill’s passage reaffirming that no federal funding would be used for abortion.

Some anti-abortion lawmakers seemed assured by this move, though anti-abortion groups and some Republicans said the president’s promised order did not change the legislation.

Democrats also fought back an attempt by the Veterans of Foreign Wars to claim that veterans’ benefits would not be protected under the legislation.

The Veterans Administration Secretary, Eric Shinsheki, said, “I am confident that the legislation being voted on today will provide the protections afforded our nation’s veterans and the health care they have earned through their service.”

“Today we have the opportunity to complete the great unfinished business of our society,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “to pass health care reform.”

Nevada’s lawmakers were monitoring the debate throughout the day, sometimes from the House floor.

Republican Rep. Dean Heller delivered a fiery floor speech in which he said Nevadans oppose the bill that would “raise Nevadans’ taxes, kill Nevada jobs and remove Nevada’s seniors from Medicare.”

Heller urged Nevada’s House Democrats, Titus and Berkley, to cast votes that “speak for Nevadans, not their beltway benefactors.”

One Nevada Democratic, however, called out Heller’s comments, reminding that the bill does not remove seniors from Medicare as Heller claimed. “That’s incorrect,” the source said. “There’s nothing in this bill to remove anybody from Medicare.”

Rather the bill would trim back subsidies to the popular Medicare Advantage program, which costs the government 14 percent more to run than traditional Medicare – leaving those seniors on traditional Medicare paying higher premiums to cover those on Medicare Advantage.

The insurance industry has said some companies may no longer offer Medicare Advantage if the government funds are trimmed.

Titus also delivered a strong speech, saying $1.3 million had been spent in her Southern Nevada district to sway her to vote no.

"I won't be intimidated," she said. "I'm standing up for what I believe is in the best interests of my constitutents. ... Now is the time to get it done and pass health care reform."

The Nevadans’ offices were open Sunday, but the Democrats said they had only a slight trickle of visitors despite the protesters outside.

Titus’ likely Republican opponent in the November election, former state Sen. Joe Heck, staged a protest at her Henderson office.

Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said “Rep. Titus can be sure that voters in her district will not forget this vote that will negatively affect Americans for generations to come, and this November they will be sure to send her packing.”

Republican Danny Tarkanian, the former UNLV basketball player who hopes to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this fall, said he would work to repeal the bill if elected senator.

"The passage of the Senate bill may fulfill the career dreams of Harry Reid, but it is a nightmarish blow to our freedoms and to America's financial future,” Tarkanian said in a statement.

Republican Sue Lowden, the former state party chairman who is also running to unseat Reid, said the senator “got his marching orders from a liberal blogger, ignored Nevada voters, wrote a bill in secret, bribed fellow politicians with our tax dollars and once again became the poster-child for Washington incumbency.”

On the national Mall, anti-health care protesters shared space with advocates of immigration reform, who had traveled to the capital for a previously scheduled rally that coincided with the historic health care vote.

By evening, though, only a small group of anti-health care protesters remained, shouting a competing message of “Nancy!” and “No! No! No!” as night fell.

As attention shifts to the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Senate Republicans will do “everything in our power” to change the bill.

Under the reconciliation process, senators can offer unlimited amendments to strike provisions or alter the bill. Republican senators have pledged a thorough debate.

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