It fell to the senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Michigan Democrat John Dingell, to put Sunday night’s vote in favor of landmark health care legislation in perspective.
“Today we are doing something that ranks with Social Security and Medicare,” declared the man whose father served during the New Deal era that gave America Social Security and who himself was present for the historic vote to create Medicare and Medicaid.
Dingell knew of what he spoke.
Sunday’s 219-212 vote was historic.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who with the victory earned a place among the chamber’s greatest leaders, announced that the House had voted to “complete the great unfinished business of our society.”
Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, hailed the legislation as “the Civil Rights Act of the 21st century.”
Even those who recognized imperfections in the process and the final bill — which abandoned the promise of a public option and compromised a woman’s right to choose — spoke of the epic character of the votes they cast on its behalf.
“For me, this legislation represents progress toward universal health care for all Americans,” declared Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota. “Every landmark piece of legislation had a beginning. Women’s rights did not end with the 19st Amendment; Civil Rights did not end with the signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; Social Security enacted in 1935, and Medicare in 1965, did not begin as we know them today. So too is it with this health care reform bill. It is a beginning–and an important one.”
The Minnesota Democrat was right about the historic nature of the vote that saw all the "yes" votes come from Democrats, while 178 Republicans and 34 Democrats voted "no."
As Ellison said, “every landmark piece of legislation had a beginning.”
What he could have added was that those beginnings were, invariably, difficult.
The rancorous debate over President Obama’s reform proposal was portrayed by much of our historically-disinclined media as an ugly degeneration of the body politic. In fact, the fight over health care reform has been no more difficult or disturbing than past fights for needed federal interventions.
Consider the battle of the mid-1930s over Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Social Security Act, which created what is now one of the most popular federal programs.