House Panels OK Universal Health Legislation

WASHINGTON -- The House Committee on Education and Labor approved legislation Friday morning in a 26-22 vote to overhaul the nation’s health care system by providing health insurance to all Americans, and has been called the biggest change in social policy in 40 years, The New York Times reported.

This vote is the second approval of the legislation, and came eight hours after the House Ways and Means Committee approved the measure 23-18, according to the report. The Ways and Means Committee legislation would enact a new 10-year tax increase of $544 billion on the wealthy to help finance the bill, The Associated Press reported. Another version of the legislation would require businesses with payrolls of more than $400,000 to provide health care to their workers, or pay a penalty of 8 percent of their payroll, plus other surtaxes based on earnings, CBS News reported.

Of the five Congressional committees involved in the bill, three have approved it as of late Friday.

"The HELP committee’s success should give us hope, but it should not give us pause," President Barack Obama said of the passing. "It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess."

Democrats who voted against the bill had concerns over tax increases and the impact such a law would have on small businesses, as well as a possibility that new government-run health insurance may underpay doctors and hospitals, the report stated.

Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican of New Hampshire, said the bill could result in some Americans’ losing insurance or even their jobs. "Small business will be massively impacted," Gregg said in the report.

Republicans who voted against the bill opposed the public health insurance option, and voiced hope that a consensus bill would emerge from the Senate Finance Committee, which must detail how it intends to pay for the proposals and has the power to write tax legislation, the Times reported. Members of the Finance Committee were reportedly making progress in talks on how to pay for the bill, expected to cost at least $1 trillion over 10 years, the report stated.

Senator Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming, the senior Republican on the panel, noted the bill’s title, the Affordable Health Choices Act, and said: "With its trillion-dollar price tag, this bill is anything but affordable."

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