Historic Change, Divided Politics

Rounding up major outlets' first reactions to the House health reform outcome

In the wake of last night’s vote in the House to approve a major overhaul of the nation’s health-care system, there were two major themes in this morning’s coverage: historic change, divided politics.

The New York Times deemed the legislation a “landmark” in its headline, and the story gave top billing to the expansion of coverage to tens of millions of uninsured. But the first paragraph also noted the lack of Republican support and “an epic political battle that could define the differences between the parties for years.”

The Washington Post leaned even harder on the political struggle: “Divided House passes health bill,” blared its banner headline. (Online, the paper went with the wordier “House passes health-care reform bill without Republican votes.”) The story’s opening waxes about “a historic victory in the century-long battle to reform the nation’s health-care system,” and mentions both expanded coverage and an effort to control costs. But the debate, it also notes, has “inflamed the partisanship that Obama pledged to tame” and “sparked a citizens’ revolt that reached the doors of the Capitol this weekend.”

Elsewhere, there were variations on the same themes. The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal went with almost identical headlines online: “House passes historic healthcare overhaul” in the LAT, “House Passes Historic Health Bill” in the WSJ. But the tone of the stories diverged: while the LAT led with expanded access to coverage, new regulations, and a House vote that “deliver[ed] President Obama the biggest victory of his young presidency,” the Journal focused on conflict. “Facing voters’ judgment in the fall, Democrats bet they could overcome public misgivings on a bill that reshapes one-sixth of the U.S. economy,” the second graf warned. “The final battle on the House floor exposed again the divisions that have riven Congress and the nation over the past year.”

Politico, too, warned of risk: while the legislation is a “historic victory” for the president, it is a “split decision” for House Democrats, who “were more relieved than overjoyed—and many [of whom] may have been casting votes, on a warm spring night, for their own political extinction.”

The left-leaning online-only outlets, meanwhile, were taking a victory lap or predicting what the next advance would be. At The Huffington Post, the gigantic front-page headline was lifted straight from Obama’s remarks: “This is what change looks like.” Slate, meanwhile, was pushing ahead. “Next Stop: Single-Payer,” read one of its rotating headlines.

Finally, an example of the Web stepping up to fill a void left by the print media. Readers looking for a puntastic take-down of Obama and House Democrats would turn naturally to the New York Post, but on this score Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid disappointed today: “To Your Health: Obama’s Big Victory,” read the front page. Fortunately, The Daily Caller stepped up, bannering “See You in Health” above a photo of Democratic leaders in the House. (For the record, Jon Ward’s story on the vote is quite sober.)

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.