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Filler: America can still do big things

Supporters of President Barack Obama's health care law

Supporters of President Barack Obama's health care law celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Thursday after the court's ruling was announced. (June 28, 2012) Credit: AP

I was in the office of a co-worker about 10 minutes after it became clear the Affordable Care Act had been upheld and she said, “I’m actually way more excited about this than I imagined I would be.”

I think that’s a fairly widespread reaction, and I don’t think it has much to do with health care.

It has to do with the fact that for the first time in almost 20 years, the nation changed something big in the hope it would make the United States a better place. And it’s been a very long time since that happened, in a conservative or liberal way.

Think about it: What was the last big, significant change the federal government made in how things work? I can’t come up with anything major since President Bill Clinton and Congress implemented welfare reform in 1996.

After Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, a fair number of people, although they didn’t vote for or support his policies, said they felt positive about the fact that he won the office. It felt good just to know we had become a country that could elect a black man to its highest office when, 50 years earlier, such a man might not have been able to eat a meal in a restaurant or sit at the front of a bus.

There are a lot of real problems in Obamacare. The funding, in particular, is based on two things that may never happen: cutting Medicare reimbursements to doctors, which the Congress has failed to do each year since 1997, and reducing the profit that private companies make on Medicare Advantage (and Washington isn’t always great at taking away profits from the corporations that, well, donate to the campaigns of politicians).

But gracious, it feels good to know we could potentially, possibly, on a great day, when the wind is right and the sun shines, do big stuff. Maybe we could even build infrastructure, bridges and roads and such. Maybe we could fix education, or get renewable power industries going, like wind and solar. Maybe we could rebuild a manufacturing base, or, yes, make our people healthier, and thus happier. Maybe we could deal with immigration, and rejigger Social Security to make it solvent, and figure out Medicare funding.

There are a lot of people, and some days I’m one of them, who believe Obamacare is the wrong thing to do. But even that, somehow, doesn’t feel as bad as being a citizen of a country that can’t do anything.