02-19-2017  4:05 am      •     

It was the second annual convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1965. And during this conference in Chicago, our great civil rights leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a speech that till this day resonates with those who see disparity in our health care system. It was on March 25 – precisely 44 years ago - that MLK said: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman." To the 220 members of Congress who voted yes for health care reform on Sunday, the citizens of the United States at long last say thank you for representing our desires, thank you for representing our needs and thank you for representing the will of the people.
For decades, Presidents have tried and failed to push through health care legislation that would begin to rectify the unfair practices of health care providers and the egregious monopoly of the insurance industry. There were efforts by Harry Truman after the Second World War, a push by Lyndon B. Johnson and who can forget the unyielding work of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. But it wasn't until Sunday, into the late hours of the night, that the U.S. Congress effectively passed this historic health care legislation. Following a year of fierce debate and town hall meetings that ended in shouting matches, the Democrats and President Obama solidified their pledge that change would indeed come to Washington.
No one can deny that the road to health care reform was embedded with hurdles and difficulties beyond comprehension. Nor is anyone avowing that all problems within our health care system will be immediately resolved. But for the first time in our nation's history, American children cannot be denied coverage because they have pre-existing conditions, small businesses will receive a tax credit for providing health care, young adults can stay on their parent's insurance until the age of 27 and insurance companies cannot cut someone when he or she gets sick. And by 2014, annual caps will be eliminated, health care exchanges will be available, adults with pre-existing conditions will no longer be discriminated against and much much more. Let us not forget, all progressive legislation – including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – did not grant everything all at once. Instead, it was amendments and other additions to the initial law that created the equality we know and enjoy today. This health care reform bill therefore is the first step in finally achieving a semblance of justice in an area that has shocked and outraged everyone concerned with the betterment of humanity.
President Obama clearly outlined his plan for health care overhaul early on during his campaign for the Presidency. And after winning the election, he spent the first year in office not only fighting for this legislation, but also reaching across the aisle. Incorporating both Democratic and Republican concepts into this bill, and making changes along the way, the President allowed an open exchange of ideas that ultimately delayed a vote on health care reform for an entire year. Let's be blatantly clear about one thing: Republicans influenced many alterations to this bill – including the loss of a public option – and yet not a single one of them voted in favor of it this past weekend. As we approach the mid-term elections and other battles in key states, let us never ever forget this fact.
Not since the 1960s has such historic legislation passed the Congress and appeared before the President's desk. But also not since that era have we witnessed such open vitriol, bigotry and reprehensible behavior. The idea that members of Congress had racial epithets like the 'N word' hurled at them, and others were spat at only proves the fact that we are unfortunately a long long way from even being close to a post-racial society. And to those pundits and voices on the right that stoke this sort of behavior, you will only lose in the end. You doubted President Obama and the Democrats – they delivered. You created hysteria surrounding health care reform all across the country – it passed on Sunday. And you continue to incite division and racial disparity – and the people will continue voting in the way of progress. Yes we can, and yes we will.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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