Congress approves historic health care legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Democratic-controlled Congress has approved historic legislation extending health care to tens of millions of Americans who lack it and cracking down on insurance company abuses.

The vote in the House was 219-212. Republicans were unanimously opposed. All of Alabama's congressmen, including democrats, voted no. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The action late Sunday capped a yearlong quest by Obama and Democrats to overhaul the system and reshape a sixth of the economy.

Minutes later, the House also passed key changes to the legislation -- part of a prearranged agreement to guarantee passage. The changes passed by a 220-211 vote. That bill now goes to the Senate for final approval, where it only requires a simple majority to pass.

The fast-track measure eliminates targeted provisions for specific states in the main health care bill. It softens a tax on high-value insurance plans opposed by organized labor.

It also contains an education provision that is a domestic priority of President Barack Obama. That measure increases college assistance for needy students and ends government reliance on private lenders for higher education loans.

President Barack Obama called Sunday night "a victory for the American people" and "a victory for common sense."

He says the reform bill "will not solve every problem" in the health care system, but "moves us in the right direction."

Obama praised Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats for getting the bill through, saying they proved that the government "still works for the people."

The heated debate that surrounding the legislation will fade away, Obama said, leaving a "health care system that works better for the American people."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.