This week, the United States Congress and President Obama gave us another reason to be proud that we are Americans. On Tuesday, the President signed into law a major health care overhaul. Yesterday, the House and Senate both approved a second bill that completes the job.
Events like this — the creation of Social Security, the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the first manned visit to the moon, comprehensive health care reform — don't happen very often. We feel privileged and awed to belong to a generation that has witnessed this sort of change.
There is work ahead to ensure that the health care reform is implemented properly and improved upon. And the reform itself must be protected from opponents who already call for its repeal.
But in the years to come, we will look back and remember this as the time when our health care system stopped being a black spot on the nation's conscience and started to grow into another reason to love this country.
This legislation to extend health insurance to 32 million Americans and protect Americans who already have insurance from the industry's abuses was nearly thwarted by several disputes over issues both real and imaginary, and some of these disputes were over taxes.
For thirty years, Citizens for Tax Justice has argued that the Americans who benefit the most from the educated workforce, infrastructure, stability and other public goods provided by government are those Americans who have made fortunes in this dynamic country. It is entirely reasonable that the richest Americans pay taxes at higher effective rates, particularly to finance concerted action to resolve the problems that threaten to unravel our society.
Over the last several years, lawmakers have moved dangerously far from that ideal. The tax cuts enacted during the previous administration went disproportionately to the wealthy investor class. The massive bailout for financial institutions enacted under the previous administration only seemed to shovel more benefits to the same wealthy investor class.
When it came time for Congress to consider how to finance health care reform, progressives demanded that the wealthy pay their fair share. Congress answered that call by reforming the Medicare tax, the one significant tax that we already have to pay for health care. It will be transformed from a regressive tax to a progressive tax that no longer exempts the income of wealthy investors.
The new health care legislation has many imperfections, and yet it undeniably is a vast improvement over the status quo. Tax policy is not the centerpiece of this reform, but disputes over tax policy could have sunk it altogether.
We applaud the House and Senate for working through these disputes and putting the public interest above special interests.
We hope that the lawmakers who supported reform like the way success feels. We hope that members of Congress realize that they're good at making history, and they should do it more often.