Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let the Debate Begin!

On 30 July 1965, at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in
Missouri, President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) signed Medicare
into law. Former President Truman sits at the signing with LBJ.
Mrs. Truman is behind her husband and Vice President
Hubert H. Humphrey and Mrs. Johnson look on.

The Question of Health Care Reform: It is as important as was the Civil Rights Legislation of ’64 and the Medicare Legislation of ’65.
by Charlie Leck

The two bills passed, one in 1964 and the other in 1965, are as important and successful as any legislation ever passed in the United States Congress. I’m talking about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Medicare bill of 1965.

They were passed under the guidance of a guy who may have been the toughest S.O.B. ever to work in Congress and the White House. As tough and as crude as he was, he was a genius in the political process required to pass controversial legislation. He was the proverbial “horse trader.” As they say about great legislative leaders, “he knew how to count!” More importantly, he knew just how hard to twist a guy’s arm and that was sometimes right to the breaking point. They called him LBJ.

Oh for an LBJ right now, when the United States Congress will open debate on one of the most historic and important pieces of legislation ever to appear before it – the people’s right to high quality health care no matter what their economic status.

Just to define the ethical principle, it has never seemed fair to me that I should be able to afford medical and health care and advice from the finest doctors and institutions available and another person should not. That is the simple case in a nutshell.

There will be right wing jerks who will try to make it out as socialism or even vile communism! They should be laughed out of the halls of Congress; however, massive amounts of people, who do not truly understand the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States, will believe them. Our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” is a guaranty made impossible if we cannot care for our health! Period and exclamation mark.

The movement toward securing those rights began in the Civil Rights Act of ’64 and took the next step in passage of the Medicare legislation of ’65. Passing a health care bill that provides all people with an affordable public option SHOULD THEY CHOOSE IT, is the next step toward guaranteed, universal health care for all people. Such legislation would bring us one step closer to the modern world. It would inch us closer toward civilization and basic human fairness.

Lyndon Baines Johnson, for all his faults, understood that all Americans deserved to be a part of the great dream. My, how I disagreed with and fought the bastard over so many issues. Yet how tall he stood on that day when he said: “We SHALL overcome!” How proud he was the day he took pen in hand and stroked his signature over the Congressional bill, the Social Security Act of 1965, that guaranteed high quality health care to America’s senior citizens.

John F. Kennedy, before Johnson, had worked hard to pass the medicare legislation and so had President Harry S. Truman, but both had failed to work it through Congress. The master of the "hit upside the head" came in and led the blocking as the bill approached the goal line. It will take such a bold President, using all the wheeling and dealing powers at his disposal today, to get the American Health Care Reform Act passed during his tenure in the White House.
"At 2 p.m. on the afternoon of July 30, 1965 two planeloads of dignitaries departed Andrews Air Force Base in Washington for a flight to Kansas City, Missouri. In the lead plane, Air Force One, was President Lyndon Johnson and the first-rank of Washington officialdom. In the second plane were the second-tier dignitaries and the press. After arriving in Kansas City the group departed in a huge motorcade for the smaller town of Independence-a 20 minute drive from Kansas City. The group's destination was the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, where Johnson planned to sign into law the bill creating the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

"During his prepared remarks, Johnson stood at a podium with President Truman at his left side. Near the end of his prepared remarks President Johnson turned again to Truman and offered to enroll him in the Part B Medical Insurance program. Johnson told him, 'They told me, President Truman, that if you wish to get the voluntary medical insurance you will have to sign this application form. And they asked me to sign as your witness. So you're getting special treatment since cards won't go out to the other folks until the end of this month.' Johnson then looked back over at Truman and said, 'But we wanted you to know, and we wanted the whole world to know,' at this point Johnson leaned over towards Truman, sticking his long hound-dog face right in Truman's, 'who is the real daddy of Medicare.' Truman mumbled his appreciation. Johnson then signed up Harry Truman as the first Medicare beneficiary." [from a 2003 Article by Larry DeWitt]
To read an incredible inside story about how LBJ managed the political deal, read the story cited above by Larry DeWitt. That article concludes in the following manner:
"The passage of Medicare would be one of the lasting achievements of Lyndon Johnson's presidency and a key enduring pillar of the Great Society. While the general outline of Medicare's legislative history had been well-known for some time, the recent releases of Lyndon Johnson's secretly recorded White House phone conversations throws some new light, and adds some additional nuances, to this broad story. We see, for example, more clearly than previously appreciated the key role that Wilbur Cohen played in the successful campaign for Medicare's passage through Congress. We hear Lyndon Johnson express the populist sentiments which inform his commitment to programs like Medicare. We see some of the ups and downs and uncertainties of the legislative process with a clarity that is lost in a simple listing of key dates of the passage of bills through the various stages of the legislative process.

"At the end of his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt was reported to have considered the Social Security Act of 1935 to be the proudest domestic achievement of his political career. It is unknown whether Lyndon Johnson saw Medicare as his. But one thing is certain which both Presidents had in common. Social Security would not have been enacted in 1935 without Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and Medicare would not have been enacted in 1965 if Lyndon Johnson had not been President. They both were the indispensable right man for the right time."
The question now is: Do we have the right man for the right time?

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