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The Untold Story of Congressional Votes For and Against Medicare and Social Security

House Republicans voted 95 to 1 in April, 1935 to block the creation of Social Security. Those 95 GOP representatives were voting “to recommit” the social security bill to the Ways and Means Committee with instructions to “strike out the old-age and unemployment insurance provisions,” the very heart of the legislation. Fortunately, 252 Democrats voted in favor of creating the program that today helps support 67 million elderly and disabled Americans.

This history is relevant because the Republican Party that voted against social security in 1935 is still against it today, although it pretends otherwise. After voting 95-1 to send the measure back to the committee that would have killed it 83 years ago, many Republicans voted yes on final passage. This has been the Republican approach ever since: feigning support while trying to starve the program, and doing all they can to convince Americans that the country can’t afford what every other developed country in the world provides its citizens.

Medicare is the same story. Democratic President Harry Truman, who succeeded Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945, called for physician and hospital insurance for all working-aged Americans and their families. Truman understood that national health insurance was an especially urgent issue for the middle class, as it is today. The poor could get charity or emergency room care, and the rich could afford private care. “I am trying to fix it so the people in the middle-income bracket can live as long as the very rich and the very poor,” Truman said. It should surprise no one that the Republicans in Congress would hear nothing of it.

The election of 1964 finally gave Democrats the large majority they needed to overcome Republican obstructionism (see New York Times election results above). That advantage made it possible for President Lyndon Johnson to push Medicare through the Senate on July 30, 1965.

Records of congressional voting show clearly that the two programs most Americans would not want to be without, Social Security and Medicare, were created by Democratic presidents backed by strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate that overcame near unanimous Republican opposition.

Just as the last ditch Republican effort to kill Social Security in 1935 was opposed by only one Republican Senator, Medicare was passed with the votes of 55 Democratic and just 13 Republican Senators in 1965.

If Americans want more social security, not less, and Medicare-like insurance for the middle class, it is clear how they should vote. Republicans will say the country can’t afford decent retirement and health insurance, and that universal healthcare is socialism, exactly as they argued in 1935 and 1965. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. This rich country can easily afford both, and more.

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