Monday, March 01, 2010

Nancy mangles history

Nancy Pelosi vows that she will get the votes to pass the Democrats' health care plan. We shall see. We shall see. It will be a real test of her ability to work her will on her caucus. Meanwhile, she is lying or mistating history as she tells her members that they should be willing to vote against what their constituents want.
“Our members, every one of them, wants health care,” Ms. Pelosi said. “They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill.”
Well, actually no. I know that this is a popular Democratic talking point, but it's just dang wrong. Both programs passed with bipartisan support and, as Polifact reports, were quite popular at the time.
To find out, we had to turn back the clock to 1935 — the height of the Great Depression — when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, an insurance program funded through taxpayer dollars meant to support retirees. The legislation was controversial for a number of reasons, including its perceived effects on the labor market and whether its benefits favored working white men.

Nevertheless, on Aug. 8, 1935, the conference report — the final version of the bill that melds together changes made in the House and in the Senate — passed in the House 372-33, with 81 Republicans voting in support. The next day, the bill was passed in the Senate 77-6, with 16 Republicans supporting the legislation. So Social Security did pass with Republican support.

Thirty years later, a significant number of Republicans voted in favor of the Medicare bill. The House adopted the conference report on July 27, 1965, 307-116, with 70 Republicans supporting it. And on July 28, the Senate adopted the final version of the bill by a vote of 70-24, with 13 Republicans in favor of the bill. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law on July 30, 1965.

But is Dean correct that the Republicans didn't support Medicare until the end?

Donald Ritchie, the associate historian in the U.S. Senate, told us that the Republican support wasn't just a last-minute phenomenon. During the discussion of both bills, "There were always progressive Republicans and liberal Republicans, some of whom supported Roosevelt and Johnson," Ritchie said.

Johnson had the political muscle to pass Medicare because the 1964 elections ushered in 42 new Democrats to the House of Representatives, giving the party a two-thirds majority overall and a larger majority on the Ways and Means Committee, where the legislation would originate. Up until then, many members of the committee, including its Democratic chairman, Wilbur D. Mills, opposed the idea of government-funded health care. In fact, Mills proved a tough sell in 1965 until some of his own pet proposals were added to the legislation. One of those — the addition of a voluntary, supplemental health care plan — had its roots in a Republican alternative bill.

In the House, no Republicans voted for the bill until it reached the floor. It passed the Ways and Means Committee by a party-line vote of 17-8, although the panel's GOP members endorsed some of the bill's non-health care related provisions, according to the 1965 Congressional Quarterly Almanac .

Likewise, all four Republicans on the House Rules Committee — the panel that sets the boundaries of debate on all bills that come to the House floor — voted against the bill.

In the Senate, however, there was Republican support in the Finance Committee. When the panel cast its final vote, the bill passed 12-5, with four of the committee's eight Republicans supporting it. (President Barack Obama would probably love to get even that much GOP backing.)

So we find Dean is glossing over the details and exaggerating the partisan split. Both Social Security and Medicare were indeed championed by Democrats, but passed with the help of Republican votes. And while some GOP members waited until the last minute to support Medicare, it was backed by half the Republicans on the Senate committee. So we find Dean's statement False.
But what do facts matter when you're in the middle of demagoguing on an issue and you want to pretend that those popular programs were just as unpopular in their own day as the Democratic plans are today. Nope. The only question is whether Nancy is deluded or lying. Your choice.