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LBJ's Ruby Slippers: 45 years of Medicare, thanks to LBJ

a little night musing's picture

Today is the is the anniversary of this event:

LBJ signs Medicare into law, photo from SSA

Larry Dewitt has written an account of how Medicare came to be passed, with information gleaned from the LBJ tapes to give more background and insight into LBJ's thinking. I've posted this excerpt before, but on the eve of the anniversary I think it is good to reflect on it again. As we prepare to fight those who want to "reform" entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, we can be inspired by LBJ's statement: "We do know that it affects the economy. . . . it helps us in that respect. But that's not the basis to go to the Hill, or the justification. We've just got to say that by God you can't treat grandma this way. She's entitled to it and we promised it to her."

Probably the most revealing conversation regarding LBJ's political values and sentiments as they related to Social Security and Medicare was an extended conversation he had with his Press Secretary, Bill Moyers. In this conversation, recorded on March 10, 1965, Johnson permits himself to reflect almost philosophically on his support for a provision in a pending bill which would provide a retroactive increase in Social Security payments. Moyers is arguing that the President should support the retroactivity clause because it will provide a stimulus to the economy. Johnson supports the provision, but he makes clear to Moyers that he does not see programs like Social Security and Medicare as being about economics.

Johnson: My reason though is not because of the economy. . . . my reason would be the same as I agreed to go $400 million on health. I've never seen an anti-trust suit lie against an old-age pensioner for monopoly or concentration of power or closely-held wealth. I've never seen it apply it to the average worker. And I've never seen one have too much health benefits. So when they come in to me and say we've got to have $400 million more so we can take care of some doctors bills, I'm for it on health. I'm pretty much for it on education. I'm for it anywhere it's practicable. . . . My inclination would be . . . that it ought to retroactive as far back as you can get . . . because none of them ever get enough. That they are entitled to it. That's an obligation of ours. It's just like your mother writing you and saying she wants $20, and I'd always sent mine a $100 when she did. I never did it because I thought it was going to be good for the economy of Austin. I always did it because I thought she was entitled to it. And I think that's a much better reason and a much better cause and I think it can be defended on a hell of a better basis. . . . We do know that it affects the economy. . . . it helps us in that respect. But that's not the basis to go to the Hill, or the justification. We've just got to say that by God you can't treat grandma this way. She's entitled to it and we promised it to her."

[edited lightlly from a previous post]

Ruby slippers reference from here, indirectly.

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mtngun's picture
Submitted by mtngun on

That LBJ did it for moral reasons, not for economic reasons.