Obama signs healthcare overhaul into law

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has signed into law a sweeping overhaul of US healthcare in a defining moment of his presidency, but one last chapter in the epic struggle is still playing out in the Senate.

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has signed into law a sweeping overhaul of US healthcare in a defining moment of his presidency, but one last chapter in the epic struggle is still playing out in the Senate.

Senators are debating a package of fixes to the new health reform law, demanded by House Democrats as their price for passing the nearly $1trillion (about R7,3trillion) overhaul legislation that will extend coverage to 32million uninsured Americans over the next decade.

Its approval at the end of this week is virtually assured, since it's being debated under fast-track budget rules that allow passage with a simple majority instead of the 60 votes usually required for action in the 100-seat Senate. Democrats control 59 Senate seats.

That didn't stop Republicans, who are unanimously opposed, from using the floor debate to repeat the accusations they have lobbed at Obama's health legislation for the past year: that it raises taxes, slashes Medicare coverage for seniors, and includes a burdensome and constitutionally questionable requirement for nearly all Americans to carry health insurance.

The Republicans came up with some new arguments too, including an amendment offered by senator Tom Coburn that would prohibit sex offenders from getting Viagra prescriptions under federal health programs.

Democratic senator Dick Durbin dismissed that as a "gotcha amendment" designed to be difficult for Democrats to oppose.

The main suspense surrounding this week's debate is whether the fix-it bill can emerge from the Senate unchanged. If it does, it can go straight to the president for his signature, since it's already passed the House of Representatives. - Sapa-AP

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