Health-Bill Foes Plan to Crank Up Pressure Over Recess

Democrats and liberal outside groups will use the Fourth of July break to mobilize in the states.

Cynthia Joseph protests against the Senate GOP health care bill outside of the office of Sen. Marco Rubio in Miami on June 28.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
Alex Rogers
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Alex Rogers
June 29, 2017, 8 p.m.

The House and Sen­ate bills de­signed to de­liv­er on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s top pri­or­ity—the re­peal and re­place­ment of the Af­ford­able Care Act—are over­whelm­ingly un­pop­u­lar. Demo­crats hope to make them even more so over the next 10 days.

In the face of de­feat, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell de­cided to push back the vote on the Sen­ate health care bill un­til after the Fourth of Ju­ly hol­i­day, al­low­ing Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors time to re­group, ana­lyze the bill, and per­haps make enough changes to get the re­quis­ite 50 votes. The Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship wants to vote and move off of the bill as quickly as pos­sible in or­der to move on to tax re­form, which it be­lieves will be much more pop­u­lar.

But Demo­crats and al­lied out­side groups will try to keep the GOP health care plans in the spot­light, hold­ing ral­lies and cam­paign events and air­ing ads across the coun­try.

“Right now, health care is pri­or­ity No. 1,” says Fa­iz Shakir, the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on na­tion­al polit­ic­al dir­ect­or. “Peri­od. Un­til it’s done, we don’t move onto any­thing else.”

Since passing the ACA in 2010, Demo­crats have suffered polit­ic­al de­feats at every level. So they are ex­uber­ant to see the Re­pub­lic­ans’ al­tern­at­ives fal­ter with the pub­lic, as more than half the pub­lic viewed the ACA fa­vor­ably for the first time in June 2017, ac­cord­ing to the Kais­er Fam­ily Found­a­tion track­ing poll. While run­ning on Obama­care be­comes in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors are fully em­bra­cing run­ning against the Re­pub­lic­an bills, even in states Pres­id­ent Trump won.

The Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship has asked its mem­bers to write op-eds, re­main act­ive on so­cial me­dia, meet with loc­al stake­hold­ers, and hold press con­fer­ences over the re­cess next week. On Thursday, Sen. Sher­rod Brown of Ohio told Na­tion­al Journ­al he’ll meet with vari­ous in­terest groups over the re­cess, as he cri­ti­cized the Sen­ate bill for its $770 bil­lion cut to Medi­caid, which helps battle the opioid crisis in his state.

“I’ve heard, to the per­son—wheth­er they’re law en­force­ment or coun­selors or med­ic­al per­son­nel—that the most im­port­ant tool that we have in com­bat­ing opioids is Medi­caid,” said Brown. “Peri­od, no ques­tions asked.”

Mean­while, Sen. Robert Ca­sey of Pennsylvania says he’ll go to hos­pit­als, towns, and rur­al parts of his state to talk about the Sen­ate GOP bill, es­pe­cially its im­pact on seni­ors. AARP, the na­tion’s largest non­profit for those 50 and older, has un­veiled ra­dio and TV ads ur­ging a num­ber of GOP sen­at­ors to vote against the bill, known as the Bet­ter Care Re­con­cili­ation Act, and held events with pa­tient and pro­vider groups across the coun­try.

“I think it’ll be a big part of 2018 over­all,” said Ca­sey of the anti-re­peal push.

Planned Par­ent­hood has also taken a lead­ing role in ral­ly­ing op­pos­i­tion to the BCRA, which would strip fed­er­al fund­ing for the wo­men’s health group for a year. The group held a protest near the Cap­it­ol this week, and is air­ing ads tar­get­ing GOP sen­at­ors in Nevada, West Vir­gin­ia, and Ari­zona. On Thursday, Cecile Richards, Planned Par­ent­hood’s pres­id­ent, talked be­fore the Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors’ weekly lunch.

“This is the worst bill for wo­men’s health in a gen­er­a­tion, and would dev­ast­ate mil­lions of people,” said Dawn Laguens, a seni­or of­fi­cial at Planned Par­ent­hood. “Make no mis­take: This fight is far from over.”

The fierce amount of polit­ic­al pres­sure on mod­er­ates and con­ser­vat­ive sen­at­ors helped delay the Sen­ate vote and is shap­ing the bill as ne­go­ti­ations con­tin­ue. Lately, some Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors have been talk­ing about re­peal­ing the BCRA’s cut on af­flu­ent Amer­ic­ans’ net in­vest­ment tax, which Demo­crats have used as an at­tack line, ar­guing the bill re­dis­trib­utes money from those on Medi­caid to those at the top. The tax cut also costs $172 bil­lion over a dec­ade; if Re­pub­lic­ans take it out of the bill, they can also use that money to help the less for­tu­nate.

“Leav­ing it as it is—where you’re re­peal­ing that tax and at the same time not provid­ing lower-in­come cit­izens with enough money to ac­tu­ally pur­chase a health plan—that’s not a sus­tain­able pro­pos­i­tion,” said Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Bob Cork­er of Ten­ness­ee, who’s up for reelec­tion in 2018. “And cer­tainly not one that is worthy of be­com­ing law.”

For years, Re­pub­lic­ans have poin­ted out rising premi­ums and the in­surers who have fled the fed­er­al mar­ket­place. When asked about the Demo­crats’ ral­lies against the Obama­care-re­peal bills, Sen. Cory Gard­ner, the head of the Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans’ cam­paign arm, said on Thursday that the policy goal should be “in­stead of try­ing to keep the status quo, find something that works.”

But the Re­pub­lic­ans’ anti-Obama­care mes­sage has lost its luster as the pub­lic views their al­tern­at­ive bills, which re­ceived between 12 and 17 per­cent ap­prov­al in three na­tion­al polls this week. The polls were con­duc­ted around the same time that the Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice re­leased its ana­lys­is. The CBO found that the Sen­ate bill would in­crease the num­ber of un­in­sured by 22 mil­li­on and in­crease Amer­ic­ans’ out-of-pock­et spend­ing as in­sur­ance com­pan­ies pay for few­er be­ne­fits, while even­tu­ally re­du­cing premi­ums by 20 per­cent.

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