CLEVELAND - It was a fierce battle over health care and it was far from bi-partisanship. Former Cleveland area Congressman Louis Stokes, who spent more than 30 years in the U.S. House, said the Republicans who voted against the bill would "rue the day" they did.
Stokes predicted the American people would one day treat the legislation passed with only Democrat votes in the same way they view Social Security and Medicare.
Stokes equated the health care legislation with other landscape-changing policies.
"This stands up with the Social Security bill; stands up with the Medicare bill, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965," said Stokes, now retired from political office.
His comments were made as he participated in a program at Case Western Reserve University, where he introduced Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democrat from California, who gave a videoconference address.
Stokes was elected to Congress only four years after the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. He recalled the hard fight waged by proponents of Civil Rights bill. In 1964, it proposed rights to awarded to black people and others who had been denied access to many public facilities. That bill went through despite strong opposition by Southern members of Congress, who wanted to hold the line against desegregation.
Then President Johnson signed the historic legislation as he was surrounded by supporters of the bill, including civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young and several others.
Comparing that historic document to the 2010 Health Care Reform Bill, Former Congressman Stokes said the opposition to the proposal President Obama sent to Congress came solely from Republican ranks.
He acknowledged there had been attempts as far back as 1912 in the administration of Republican Theodore Roosevelt to get some kind of national health care coverage.
"This time we were succesful," said Stokes.
Several other presidents also unsuccessfully pushed for reform, including President Bill Clinton during Stokes' time in office. When asked what gave Obama the victory, Stokes said, "just strong leadership."
The longtime political leader, who remains active in civic and political events in Cleveland, predicted within a few years, the question of a national health care plan would not be controversial.
"I predict this legislation will be viewed by the people just as they view Medicare and Social Security," he said. "The people will say to you, 'Don't touch it; that's mine.'"
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