Obama Signs Health-Care Bill, Changes the Story of His Presidency

It's official. President Obama's health-care-reform bill is the law of this land. The signing was almost as arduous as the lawmaking: with Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi at his side, Obama used 20 different pens to sign the 11 letters of his name on the historic bill. But nothing could dampen the euphoric mood in the East Room today. The president beamed through raucous applause and chants of "Fired up, ready to go" and "Nancy, Nancy." I've rarely seen such a boisterous signing ceremony.

The president used his speech to pivot to his next task: selling the bill to a somewhat hesitant public. He focused on the immediate benefits to Americans: small-business tax credits, insurance for those with preexisting conditions, extending family plans to children up to the age of 26, and assistance for seniors who've reached the so-called doughnut-hole gap in their Medicare prescription coverage. These reforms will kick in before the midterm elections, and no doubt Obama and his fellow Democrats will be hammering that message home between now and November. "The bill I'm signing will set in motion reforms that generations of Americans have fought for, and marched for, and hungered to see," he said. 

Obama also took a few moments to explain the longer-term vision of insurance exchanges and coverage expansion. It was probably the clearest explanation he's given so far of how reform will work. It makes one wonder whether he felt caged by the months when there was little clarity about what the final legislation would look like. Now that he has a singular, tangible bill to fight for, his much-lauded communication skills might be better utilized than they were in the past few months.

Today will no doubt go down in the history books as the day Americans embraced a shared commitment to providing health care for their fellow citizens. "We are affirming that essential truth—a truth every generation is called to rediscover for itself—that we are not a nation that scales back its aspirations," Obama said. But it also marks a turning point in the narrative of his presidency. As long as health reform hung in the balance, so too did Obama's presidency. For weeks we've been reading doom-and-gloom analysis of a White House on the brink of failure. But today Obama is a winner. The difficult and at times precarious path he cut to victory has made his achievement appear all the more impressive. Today is the day pundits once again start talking about the historic, sweeping nature of the Obama presidency. For now, at least, the "White House in disarray" stories will become "White House in charge" stories. No wonder Obama smiled so broadly and for so long this morning.