Union members were among more than 200 people at a rally July 6 in Northeast Portland calling on the U.S. Senate to reject Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tried to jam a bill through the Senate before the July Fourth break that contained drastic cuts to Medicaid, and huge tax breaks for the wealthy. A backlash by constituents nationwide forced him to postpone the vote — for lack of Republican support. [The GOP-led House passed their version of health care reform on May 4 that contained similar cuts.]
“This is the fight of our lifetime, and a lot of people don’t even know what’s coming at them,” said Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden.
Wyden organized the “It’s Not Over” rally with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. The Democratic lawmakers are calling on citizens to keep the pressure on Congress to stop repeal of the ACA. They are gathering personal stories from Oregonians so they can share them on the Senate floor.
Merkley criticized Republican leadership for shoving the bill through the Senate with zero markups, zero amendments, and zero public testimony.
“Are we going to accept in a ‘We the People’ democracy in the United States of America a zero, zero, zero proposal on health care that will affect millions and millions of Americans all over this country? NO!,” he said to cheers.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the GOP health care bill —which would cut Medicaid by almost $800 billion —would strip health insurance coverage for 22 million people in the next decade. Fifteen million would lose coverage next year.
The AFL-CIO and other opponents say the bill also would eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, raise premiums for older workers, and potentially kill 1.45 million jobs over the next 10 years — all to provide $200 billion in tax breaks to the top 2 percent of Americans.
“We hear a lot about how these tax breaks for the wealthy are going to create jobs,” Wyden said at the Portland rally. “Get this — they made the biggest (tax) break retroactive. So this bill isn’t going to create a job, but it’s going to create some tax windfalls, and that’s why we have to stop it!”
The one tax that would remain is the so-called “Cadillac tax” imposed on customers of so-called high-cost health care plans, many if not most of them collectively bargained union plans. Retaining the Cadillac tax means “about 42 percent of large employers will be impacted and it’ll result in them dropping coverage altogether,” predicted AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
The AFL-CIO said it is committed to do everything in its power to kill any bill that tries to repeal the seven-year-old ACA.
On July 13, Senate Republicans released a new draft of their health care bill.
The new version looks a lot like the last one, Sens. Wyden and Merkley said in separate press releases. It still slashes Medicaid by more than $700 billion, it guts coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, cuts taxes for the wealthy, and raises costs for older Americans.
The bill quickly stalled, with four Republican senators coming out against it. Republicans can only afford two defections to pass a bill.
Without the needed votes, McConnell introduced a new plan supported by President Trump to repeal Obamacare with a delayed replacement of two years.
At press time, three Republican senators said they would not support moving to the repeal-only bill. Stay tuned.