EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Opinion

March 16, 2014

Column: Bumpy road for landmark legislation is nothing new

Throughout American history, landmark pieces of legislation have not passed Congress without shortcomings and controversy. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“Obamacare” to its critics) was no exception. Actually, it was to be expected after 98 years of off-and-on reform efforts in health care.

Here’s a look at some other landmark federal legislation from the past hundred years. All had opposition as well as deficiencies that required reworking, amending or compromising.

— U.S. income tax. Congress enacted the nation’s first income tax laws in 1861 and 1862 to help finance the Civil War. After expiring in 1872, the income tax had a short-lived revival in 1894 and 1895 until the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in the latter year. The passage of the 16th Amendment to the Constitution in 1913 made the income tax a permanent fixture and gave Congress the legal authority (Revenue Act of 1913) to tax incomes of both individuals and corporations.

— 1930s New Deal legislation. Initially, the New Deal programs were created primarily for men, as it was assumed that the husband was the “breadwinner.” If he had a job, then entire families would benefit. All in all, the New Deal programs (especially the first phase) were experiments with different and sometimes contradictory cures for economic ills. One that became permanent was the Social Security system. However, as passed, the Social Security Act of 1935 actually excluded many individuals – primarily women and minorities – from unemployment insurance and old-age benefits, and no payouts occurred until 1942.

— Civil Rights Act of 1964. Written to end racial discrimination and segregation in public accommodations, public education and federally assisted programs, it was vehemently opposed by Southern senators. It also stirred up the longest continuous debate in Senate history – 60 days! After Democrats redrafted controversial language in the bill to make it more acceptable to Republicans, a Senate coalition voted for cloture, thereby ending the filibuster (trying to talk a bill to death) and passing the most sweeping civil rights legislation in our nation’s history.

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