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A Day to Celebrate a More Healthy, More Wealthy America

SOURCE: AP/Charles Dharapak

President Barack Obama signs the health care reform bill on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 in the East Room of the White House.

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The health care reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law today by President Barack Obama is progressive reform at its finest—conceptually farsighted in design and pragmatically far reaching in scope. We at CAP look forward to addressing the many details of implementation in the days, months, and years ahead, but we should also pause for a moment to consider the recent genesis of the law.

American progressives since President Theodore Roosevelt, of course, sought to enact health reform, only to be stymied by conservatives who believed (then as now) that health is a privilege, not a right. Conservatives’ admittedly canny ability to demagogue health care reform as socialist—or worse—blocked reform throughout the 20th century, but something changed in this century. Above all, President Obama’s election and his consistent pursuit of health reform helped progressives in Congress weather the false attacks on this politically moderate but exceedingly meaningful health reform plan. And then there was the determination of the leadership in Congress to steer this comprehensive legislation to the president’s desk and commit to important compromises to ensure it works.

But there were other things happening in this century in the run up to today’s historic moment. Back in 2005, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that health care reform was politically impossible. The newly formed Center for American Progress did not agree. With Senior Fellow Jeanne Lambrew and Associate Director for Domestic Policy, Terri Shaw, we published our " Plan for a Healthy America" in the influential journal Health Affairs. In it, we wrote:

"As veterans of previous policy battles, we do not underestimate the political challenge involved in making the U.S. health system accessible to all. Nor do we disagree with the assessment that moral conviction has been lacking in past health policy debates. However, we reject the claims that health reform is doomed by political paralysis and an incapacity for Americans to sacrifice for the greater good. At opportune points in U.S. history, pragmatic ideas have overcome seemingly impossible political odds and become policy."

That plan became the foundation of CAP’s work on health care reform over the past five years. And that "opportune point in time" is now. We at CAP are proud that several of our concepts that evolved through the work of many parties are now part of the health care reform bill passed by Congress and signed into law today by President Barack Obama. We applaud these progressive political leaders—progressives who will carry the work of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson into the 21st century.

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