WASHINGTON — He won't be there when President Barack Obama signs health care legislation into law Tuesday, but the memory of the late President Harry S Truman will.
Truman is considered the political Godfather of universal health care, having first proposed it on Nov. 19, 1945, and establishing it as a keystone of the Democratic Party agenda ever since.
In a message to Congress that November, Truman urged that the federal government step in to assure that people get access to health care, particularly children, the poor and people in rural America far from doctors and hospitals.
"The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility,' Truman said.
The most controversial part of his five-part plan called for national health insurance. It was to be optional, and Americans could pay a monthly premium and, in return, have all their medical fees covered.
The American Medical Association called it socialized medicine, an even scarier charge at the dawn of the cold war with the Soviet Union. The group said the White House was filled with "followers of the Moscow party line."
Under fire, it never passed.
When Congress enacted the Medicare national health insurance program for the elderly two decades later, President Lyndon Johnson paid homage to Truman by signing the bill into law at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo.
"It was really Harry Truman of Missouri who planted the seeds of compassion and duty which have today flowered into care for the sick, and serenity for the fearful," Johnson said.
"It all started really with the man from Independence. And so, as it is fitting that we should, we have come back here to his home to complete what he began."
When Obama rolled out his proposal for health care in January 2007, he, too, invoked Truman, calling him "the first man bold enough to issue the call for universal health care" and remembering the way Johnson signed Medicare with Truman at his side.
After the House of Representatives passed the health care bill late Sunday evening, Obama celebrated with close aides on the White House's Truman Balcony, the second floor balcony added to the South Portico by Truman.
Truman died in 1972; his wife Bess in 1982.
Their only daughter, Margaret Truman Daniel, wrote mystery novels set in Washington, starting with Murder at the White House in 1980 and continuing almost yearly through Murder Inside the Beltway, published in 2008.
She died at the age of 83 in 2008.
Three of her children, and late president's grandchildren, survive: Clifton Truman Daniel, Harrison Gates Daniel, and Thomas Washington Daniel.
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