The Social Security Amendments of 1965, which established Medicare and Medicaid, were approved by the House of Representatives on July 27 of that year and by the Senate on July 28 of that year. These life-saving, and life-transforming, measures became effective two days later, on July 30, 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed them into law.
As the 52nd anniversary of those historic dates approached this summer, Medicaid’s future was threatened by Republican members of Congress who in their rush to destroy President Obama’s legacy—via the repeal of the Affordable Care Act—also laid the groundwork for the destruction of President Johnson’s legacy.
There is no underestimating the significance of the failure of President Trump and his congressional allies to get their way in the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, when the Senate narrowly rejected the so-called “skinny repeal” that had been proposed by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. CNN referred to the 49-51 vote as “a devastating setback to Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.” But the Senate vote was about more than repealing the Affordable Care Act. Had the Senate approved the absurdly ill-defined “skinny repeal” legislation, activists and senators who opposed the measure feared that it would ultimately be sent to a House-Senate conference committee where, warned Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, “I believe a conference bill would include the kind of deep cuts to Medicaid that would be very problematic for the people I represented.”
Collins voted “no,” as did two other Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona. They were accorded a good deal of credit for blocking McConnell’s move, as were Senate Democrats, who were united in their opposition.
But the greatest credit for blocking “skinny repeal” and averting schemes to cut and cap Medicaid—at least for this anniversary—goes to the remarkable activists who fought for their lives and for our future on Capitol Hill over the past several weeks. Americans who rely on Medicaid, for their own survival and for the survival of their children and families, traveled to Washington at great physical and economic expense to save the program—and to argue for a health-care system that provides all Americans with the care, assistance and dignity they have a right to demand. Called to action by ADAPT, a grassroots disability-rights organization with chapters in 30 states, and by Disability Action for America and other disability-rights organizations nationwide, and supported by brilliant organizers such as Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org, they recognized what was at stake. And they did what was necessary to make their presence known.