Social Security, Medicare Faced Same Arguments

Don't listen to what the squeaky wheels on the far right are yelling this week: Most Americans will support the health care reform bill passed by the House once they see what's included in it. In fact, the first major poll taken after the March 21 vote s

Mar 24, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Don’t listen to what the squeaky wheels on the far right are yelling this week: Most Americans will support the health care reform bill passed by the House once they see what’s included in it.

In fact, the first major poll taken after the March 21 vote suggests a much different picture than what’s being touted by the Tea Party and GOP “leaders” like U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

A CNN poll taken a day after the vote found Americans opposed the health-care reform bill by a margin of 59-39 percent.

Sounds gloomy at first blush, but let’s dig deeper into those numbers.

Later questions in CNN’s poll reveal that of the 59 percent opposed, 13 percent oppose it because it is “not liberal enough,” to use the poll’s wording. Those people are likely progressives who are upset that a public option wasn’t included in the final version.

If you add the 39 percent who support the bill and the 13 percent who want it to be more liberal, you end up with 52 percent — a majority who thinks major reforms are necessary and not mere tinkering of the status quo.

Only 43 percent opposed the bill because it’s too liberal. Another 5 percent had no opinion.

That shouldn’t be surprising for informed people who look beyond the excessive attention focused on the Tea Party by corporate-owned media that’s always in search of volatile images, or the bellicose ranting of the GOP spin machine.

Several polls last year — while the health-care reform debate still was fresh — found a majority of Americans supported either a public option or an expansion of Medicare to all age groups.

For example, a June 2009 poll by NBC News/Wall Street Journal revealed that 76 percent of respondents said it was either “extremely” or “quite” important to include a public option.

A CBS News/New York Times poll from the same summer showed that 72 percent of Americans supported a government-sponsored health-care plan to compete with private insurers.

Those numbers aren’t isolated. They were repeated over and over again in multiple polls taken last year.

President Obama didn’t push for a public option because he had cut secret deals with the pharmaceutical and hospital lobbies, as was recently confirmed by a New York Times reporter. Senate Democrats, who — like their Republican colleagues — accept big cash contributions from those special interests also ignored the push for a public option.

Many House Democrats, less beholden to the Washington power structure, did support it. U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D- Fla.) and others have said they will introduce a public option bill in coming months, and Obama has pledged to revisit the issue.

Just as Obama signed the bill into law this week, 13 states filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality; all of the state governments involved have Republican attorneys general. Florida is the lead plaintiff in the case, joined by Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Washington.

The states allege the law amounts to an unfunded mandate and will be a financial burden due to the expansion of state-controlled Medicaid systems. (Up to 15 million more people will be eligible for Medicaid once the law takes effect.) Also, they allege the law is an unconstitutional expansion of powers that should be left to states.

These types of arguments are nothing new. They were first tried 75 years ago to prevent the creation of Social Security, and similar arguments were made against enacting Medicare.

When President Franklin Roosevelt created Social Security in 1935, Republicans and corporate interests opposed it. Two separate lawsuits were filed.

In the first, plaintiffs argued that by imposing a tax on employers that could be avoided only by contributing to a state unemployment compensation fund, the federal government was forcing states to establish an unemployment compensation fund that would comply with its criteria. In a 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Social Security law, stating it promoted “the general welfare” of the nation.

In the other case, a Boston electric company argued that Social Security amounted to a federal contributory insurance program, which it said was illegal. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in a 7-2 vote, stating a tax upon employers was constitutional and also was allowed because the spending was for the common benefit rather than a merely local purpose.

When President Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in 1965, it too was vehemently opposed by Republicans. Conservatives alleged it was an unearned entitlement and would lead to socialism. (Sound familiar?) Supporters, however, noted many elderly people couldn’t afford the rates offered to them by private insurers. Further, it said the benefit was earned because Medicare payments for workers would be based on their contributions to the system.

Of course, neither Social Security nor Medicare led to socialism.

U.S. society hasn’t used a truly capitalist system for decades, instead using bits and pieces from various systems to form a hybrid one — just like almost every successful democracy has done.

Congressional Republicans today wouldn’t dare call for the abolishment of Social Security or Medicare because it would be political suicide. Once Americans get a taste of a health-care system that’s been revamped to be more humane and keep the profit motive in check, they won’t be willing to give it up either, and that’s why GOP politicians like House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-West Chester) are so upset.

The new law extends coverage to 32 million people who are currently uninsured and reduces the cost of care, which is estimated to cut more than $1 trillion from the federal deficit during the next two decades.

Key provisions include preventing insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or placing limits on their lifetime benefits, preventing insurers from canceling coverage when a customer gets sick and creating a special high-risk insurance pool for people with serious medical conditions or illnesses to make coverage more affordable.

Also, young adults are allowed to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, and elderly people will receive a rebate to cover Medicare’s “doughnut hole” and reduce drug costs it doesn’t cover. Small businesses will get tax cuts to help pay for employee coverage.

The new law isn’t perfect by a longshot, but it’s a major improvement over the system we’ve had for decades. By November, most voters will understand that too.

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