After weeks of deliberation, President Barack Obama has finally been able to push his healthcare reforms through Congress. On Saturday, the incumbent President hailed a key congressional committee's approval of a bill embracing his plan to overhaul the US healthcare system as a "historic consensus."
Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee hammered out a compromise that saw the healthcare reform package -- Obama's main domestic priority -- approved 31-28 late Friday.
All of the committee's Republican members voted against the legislation, as did five Democrats.
The bill's passage clears the way for a full House vote in September, when the legislators return from their August recess.
"This historic step by the House Energy and Commerce Committee moves us closer to health insurance reform than we have ever been before," Obama said in a statement.
"The bill that they have passed will strengthen consumer protections and choice, while lowering costs and improving care, underscoring the broad consensus among all of the bills that have emerged in Congress," he said.
The bill would make more low-income people eligible for Medicaid, the federal healthcare program; provide health insurance subsidies for middle class Americans; and offer a government-sponsored plan as an alternative to private insurance.
A Republican-sponsored amendment to kill the so-called "public option" was voted down, 31 to 28.
The bill also included provisions sought by liberal Democrats that would limit increases in insurance premiums and allow the government to negotiate pharmaceutical prices.
More broadly, the bill seeks to provide health coverage for some 50 million uninsured Americans, and restrain skyrocketing healthcare costs.
The committee action provided a much needed boost for Obama, who has seen public support for both the reform and his handling of the issue erode as Republicans have highlighted concerns over the high cost to taxpayers.
A healthcare reform bill is not yet certain, as any measure approved in the House would have to be reconciled with the bill produced by the Senate -- and key Senate Finance Committee members warned there was still much work to do.
"Over the next few weeks, we must build upon the historic consensus that has been forged, and do the hard work necessary to seize this unprecedented opportunity for the future of our economy and the health of our families," Obama said.
John Thune, a South Dakota Republican seen as a possible 2012 presidential candidate, said in the party's weekly radio address that "Republicans want healthcare reform that works. Reform that brings down costs for families and small businesses, and reform that provides better care to more people."
"On all these points, the current proposals by the president and the Democrat leadership in Congress fall short," Thune argued.
But Democrat Mike Ross of Arkansas said the vote offered "a historic opportunity to transform our healthcare system."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs described the committee approval as "a big, positive step forward."
Republicans have fiercely opposed Obama's plans, and opposition from conservative Democrats to a plan many consider too costly has weakened the president's sizeable majorities in both chambers.