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Health vote carries ex-Rep. Wolff back to '60s

For former Rep. Lester Wolff, watching Sunday night's vote on the health care bill was like a trip back in time to 1965 and the debate over Medicare.

"To me it's like déjà vu, all over again," said Wolff, a Democrat who represented Long Island's 3rd Congressional District, and later the 6th, during the period 1965 to 1981. "You didn't have the amount of vitriol you have today, but it's the same type of opposition as when I took it up for the first time on the floor."

The intense debate sparked by President Barack Obama's health care bill has drawn comparisons to past legislation for other sweeping reforms. The votes on Social Security, passed in 1935, and Medicare, passed in 1965, were not as partisan as the health care bill but the public discussion they ignited brought forth similar philosophical arguments about government control.

During the Social Security debate, a New York Times article from 1935 described how the secretary of labor, while explaining the program, was accused of "spreading propaganda" to "Sovietize" the United States.

Decades later, when the debate over Medicare heated up, similar accusations were made. A 1965 Newsday article described an American Medical Association meeting where Medicare was spoken of as "socialized medicine" and "fascist control of doctors."

"People were calling it socialized medicine then," said Otis Pike, 88, a Democrat who represented the 1st Congressional District from 1961 to 1979. "From what I saw last night, the argument didn't change all that much."

Eventually, many who had opposed Medicare came to embrace it. Wolff recalled that when he was first running for election, a Nassau County medical group supported his opponent because of the Medicare issue. Years later, they supported Wolff's re-election based on the same issue.

"I don't even think it will take that long with health care reform," said Wolff, 91, of Muttontown. "When people have medical needs and they're turned down by their insurance company, those people will be the first people who will come around."

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