Obama Signs Executive Order on Abortion Today

The health care debate is far from over, Republicans say.

ByJake Tapper and Huma Khan via via logo
March 24, 2010, 7:48 AM

March 24, 2010— -- President Obama today signed an executive order banning federal funding for abortion, as he had promised to anti-abortion Democrats. But even though the health care bill is signed, sealed and delivered, Republicans across the country are plotting a strategy to repeal it by challenging the law's constitutionality in court.

The executive order is intended to ensure that current law limiting federal funding for abortion is maintained and it will extend the restrictions to the newly created health insurance exchanges. Under the current law, federal funds cannot go toward abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the pregnant woman is at risk.

Unlike yesterday's bill-signing celebrations in the East Room and the Department of the Interior, the president signed this executive action behind closed doors, with nary a camera present and no reporters allowed.

Obama pledged to sign it in exchange for the votes of anti-abortion Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., who will be present at the signing today.

Many stumbling blocks still remain even as Democrats and Obama rejoice in the passing of the health care law.

At least 14 state attorneys general, only one of whom is a Democrat, filed lawsuits in state courts Tuesday after Obama signed the health care bill. They're charging that the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.

Even before the health care bill made its way to the president's desk, four state legislatures passed laws attempting to block the bill. Virginia's GOP Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected today to sign the bill into the state's law, making it illegal for the federal government to require Americans to purchase health insurance.

White House officials say they are confident the language in the bill will withstand legal challenges. The Department of Justice said it will "vigorously defend the constitutionality of the health care reform statute, along with any other claims, in any litigation that is brought against the United States," and it's confident the Obama administration will prevail.

But Democrats are still nervous about the litany of litigation.

"This Supreme Court, if they think it helps the Republican cause, they'll rule that way," Democratic strategist James Carville said on "Good Morning America" today. "I'm nervous about it."

A similar mandate was first proposed by Republicans, a point that Obama made in his remarks Tuesday. But there is a difference, Republican strategist Kevin Madden said.

"They're going to force individuals to go out and buy plans from private industries," Madden said on "GMA."

Under the health care bill, by 2014 most Americans would be required to have health insurance or pay a fine, with the exception of low-income Americans. Employers would also be required to provide coverage to their workers, or pay a fine of $2,000 per worker. Companies with fewer than 50 employees, however, are exempt from this rule.

While many legal experts say the Obama administration has the upper hand, others say it's not so cut and dry.

"Congress often does preempt state law, or pushes it aside in areas like the environment," said Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar and professor at George Washington University. "But what's different here is that they're treating individual citizens almost like polluting factories that amount to an interstate problem."

State attorneys general argue that the new law invades their freedom.

"The state has been put into a situation where are our liberties are being trampled on," Texas attorney general Greg Abbott said. "I'm confident that the court is going to declare the new health care reform law unconstitutional."

In the Senate, which still has to pass the "fixes" that Obama and House members proposed, Republicans are introducing a spate of amendments to delay the debate.

"In the end, in this political process, in this great democracy we have, the voters, the people, always get the final say-so," warned Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee. "And I think this is very important to remember as the president intends to take a victory lap on this bill."

Obama had an amusing take on the fickle winds of Washington, D.C., and how in politics nothing succeeds like success.

Reflecting on his legislative victory with health care overhaul legislation, he quipped to an aide Tuesday: "I guess we'll be considered smart again for at least another four weeks."

A USA Today/Gallup poll released Tuesday found that more Americans, 50 percent, were enthusiastic or pleased about the health care bill's passage, versus 42 percent, who were angry or disappointed. Nearly half, 49 percent, said passing the health care bill was a "good thing."

Anger Over Health Care Law

Outside Washington, D.C., people are channeling their anger at their state representatives and vandalizing the offices of those lawmakers who voted in favor. At the Democratic headquarters in upstate New York, someone threw a brick through the window with a note that read, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice," a quote from Barry Goldwater.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who voted in favor of the legislation, became a target. Her office in Arizona was vandalized over night.

Several House Democrats received threats after voting for the health care bill. Speaking to reporters today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said some Democratic members felt they were at risk in terms of their security.

"Any member who feels themself at risk is getting attention from the proper authorities," he said. Typically, only the House membership has security.

Most of the threats to these members appear to be via phone calls, Hoyer said. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said even his wife had received threatening phone calls.

Republicans are already predicting a tougher fight for Democrats in the mid-term election.

The Republican National Committee's "Fire Nancy Pelosi" Web site surpassed $1 million in funds raised since the health care legislation passed Sunday evening. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin unveiled a list of 17 Democratic members of Congress who she wants to target in the upcoming mid-term elections.

"We're going to reclaim the power of the people from those who disregarded the will of the people. We're going to fire them and send them back to the private sector, which has been shrinking thanks to their destructive government-growing policies," Palin wrote in an e-mail to supporters seeking to raise money.

On radio and television, conservative commentators lashed out at the lawmakers who passed the legislation.

On his radio program, Rush Limbaugh said, "We need to defeat these bastards. We need to wipe them out."

Democrats have "got a legislative win right now but this is where the tough part starts" in trying to sell the health care law, Madden said.

"I think that Democrats are going to have a very hard time in November going out there and explaining to the American people that they think it was a good idea to spend over a trillion dollars," Madden said, "at a time when we don't have that kind of money."

Obama Signs Health Care Bill Into Law

After more than a year of negotiations, debate and political drama, Obama Tuesday signed the historic health care bill that will reshape care for millions of Americans.

"After a century of striving, after a year of debate, after a historic vote, health care reform is no longer an unmet promise," Obama said at an event after the signing ceremony at the Department of Interior. "It is the law of the land."

Passing the $938 billion health care bill was no small feat for Obama. Indeed, as Vice President Biden put it, "This is a big f***ing deal."

Biden was heard on the microphone whispering that comment to the president as he shook his hand.

Shortly after the video went viral, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs tweeted, "And yes Mr. Vice President, you're right..."

The president will be in Iowa City, Iowa, Thursday to discuss the health care law and what it means for Americans.

The White House picked Iowa City because in 2007, then-Sen. Obama delivered his first major speech on health care overhaul as a presidential candidate at the University of Iowa.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted the bill would cost $938 billion -- mainly through a mix of tax increases and reduction in Medicare spending -- and would reduce the federal deficit by $143 billion in the first 10 years. The health care bill would extend insurance to 32 million more Americans.

Some components of the health care bill will take effect right away, including helping older Americans pay for prescription drugs and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage to children based on pre-existing conditions. There will also be tax credits for small businesses to help them cover insurance costs for their employees.

Others, such as the individual mandate and more stringent regulations on insurance companies barring them from placing lifetime caps on coverage, or denying adults based on pre-existing conditions, won't take effect until 2014.

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