Faith Leaders Express Gratitude at Health Reform Passage

Protestant leaders are expressing their gratitude for this weekend's historic vote to pass health care reform, with many of them citing the bill's passage as a necessary step to protect the vulnerable in American society.

"We thank the members of the House of Representatives for their courage, vision, and leadership in making a wise decision and voting on what is best for people living in the United States," said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president for the United Church of Christ (UCC). "The passing of this bill moves us closer to the realm of God, a realm where mercy, compassion and love for all reigns on earth."

Black said members across the UCC are rejoicing that "the House put millions of individuals, children and families ahead of politics and egos and voted to help end the suffering of those without health insurance and to end the discriminatory practices of health insurance companies."

Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said that, "For decades, the General Board of Church and Society has worked alongside thousands of United Methodists to achieve health care for all in the U.S. This vote brings us closer to that reality."

In a statement released Monday, National Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Michael Kinnamon noted that, "This act is necessary to protect the most vulnerable members of society, the uninsured, millions of whom are children."

The $938 billion Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was approved by the House of Representatives on Sunday by a 219-212 vote.

The landmark piece of legislation will extend health coverage to 32 million more Americans and will ban practices by insurance companies such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Through tax increases and a reduction in Medicare spending, the bill is also expected to reduce the federal deficit by $142 billion in its first 10 years of implementation.

"This is what change looks like," President Obama said of the vote. "We proved that this government – a government of the people and by the people – still works for the people."

In a speech on the House floor on Sunday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "It is with great humility and with great pride that we tonight will make history for our country and progress for the American people."

"Just think-we will be joining those who established Social Security, Medicare, and now tonight health care for all Americans," she said to a round of applause.

But while many Democrats are celebrating, the GOP has seen the health bill's passage as just the beginning of a new battle to have the legislation repealed.

Twelve lawsuits from Republican state attorneys have been filed since Sunday's vote, all of them challenging the constitutionality of the bill's mandate to require all Americans to have health insurance.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty told ABC News on Monday that the mandate is an "unprecedented overreach by the federal government forcing individual citizens to buy a good or a service for no other reason than they happen to be alive or a person."

Pawlenty also rejected the idea that the GOP is just trying to "gut" the bill, saying that defending the Constitution and the relationship between federal and state governments is no "frivolous matter."

Pro-lifers have also struck out against the bill's passage, saying that Obama's promise of an executive order to bar federal funding of abortions is not enough.

"A flimsy promise of an executive order from the President may make it more comfortable for 'pro-life' Democrats like Rep. Bart Stupak to vote for the bill, but in the end, such an illusory promise is not even worth the paper on which it's written," Concerned Women for America CEO Penny Nance said in a statement.

Other Republicans, however, have expressed regret at the GOP's lack of effort to show bipartisan support for the Democrat's bill.

Calling Sunday's vote the Republican "Waterloo," David Frum, former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, told Good Morning America on Monday, "If you lose something as important as this and you pick up some seats in 2010, great, maybe you lose them in 2014. This bill will still be there. This bill will still be there forever."

Kinnamon has also expressed sorrow over the "bitterly divisive" debate that occurred over the bill, but says that he suspects "all that will be forgotten once the public has had a chance to experience the benefits of a more inclusive system."

He recalled the "bruising debate in Congress" when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed Social Security during the Great Depression.

"Even after Social Security was enacted, opposing senators attempted to prevent its implementation by filibustering against measures to fund it," Kinnamon said. "Today we can't imagine life in this country without Social Security. Making health care available to a wider number of Americans is the right and moral thing to do, and the time will come when we can't imagine our lives without it."

President Obama will be signing the House Bill into law on Tuesday morning, after which he will speak at a celebratory event at the Department of Interior.

Later this week, Obama will be in Iowa to detail what changes will be made for the public through the new bill.

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