Happy Birthday, America: Gifts for the Country That Has Everything

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July FourthOn Wednesday night, amid the sounds of fireworks and the smoky scent of barbecues, the United States of America will celebrate its 236th birthday. While this isn't a particularly "important" anniversary, it's still a pretty special day. After all, there's no better time to celebrate our country than in an election year, when the national debate over America's purpose and direction gets especially heated.

Birthdays, of course, are times for giving gifts, but what does one buy the country that has everything? This year, America's big gift to itself is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare." (Well, fine, maybe we didn't technically buy it this year -- but Chief Justice Roberts only recently decided not to make us return it.)

At a cost of $794 billion for eight years -- or $99 billion per year -- it's one of the most expensive social programs in U.S. history. On the other hand, it will provide health insurance coverage to an estimated 30 million uninsured Americans, while making health care more affordable for pretty much everyone else.

And, to put things in context, it's worth remembering that America's last big expenditure, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have cost $1.3 trillion -- or $122 billion per year -- since 2001. By comparison, Obamacare is a bargain -- and a much bigger boost to the economy.

As we mark this national birthday, let's look back at America's biggest gifts to itself:



Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at@bruce1971.

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