Healthcare protest portends “hell to pay” if Senate GOP bill passes
Brennan Linsley/AP

WASHINGTON (PAI) — Elizabeth Colatrella flew all the way from Denver to D.C. talk to her Republican Colorado senator, Cory Gardner, about health care. She failed.

And that led Colatrella, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and whose care is paid for by Medicaid, to join her caregiver, Melissa Benjamin, at a mass rally of hundreds of people, unionists included, protesting the then-secret Senate Republican health care bill.

The rally, in 90-plus degree heat on the U.S. Capitol lawn on June 21, came as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky planned to unveil the Republicans’ alleged “replacement” for the Affordable Care Act June 22 – and then call a quick vote on it in the final week of June.

The quick scheduling and stifled debate angered Democratic senators, who organized the rally at the last minute, along with other speakers and participants. All agreed that solons should reject the GOP plan and instead improve, not repeal, the seven-year-old ACA. And all demanded that lawmakers and the rest of the country get a look at what the GOP dreams up.

And they advocated public pressure, with a national call in at 866-828-4162 to put pressure on senators to stop the GOP bill.

ACA repeal would particularly hurt people like Colatrella, who need Medicaid to pay for their health care, Benjamin, a certified nursing assistant, and an organizer for Service Employees Local 105, told Press Associates Union News Service during the rally.

That’s what Colatrella planned to tell Gardner, a first-term conservative Republican, at a meeting that was actually scheduled with the solon in his office. But instead, Gardner refused to talk to them and shunted them off to an aide. He met them in a hall outside Gardner’s office.

“We were unable to share our story with him. You can’t discuss anything like this there,” Benjamin says.

The rally also drew members of AFSCME, the Teachers, Unite Here Local 23 in D.C., Working America, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the National Partnership for Women and Families, among other groups.

There, senators and speakers blasted the Republicans’ health care push, though the Senate bill was still secret, and GOP aims to cut Medicare, Medicaid and rip up the ACA in order to give a multibillion dollar tax cut to “millionaires, billionaires and wealthy corporations,” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., put it.

Other unionists, who declined to give their names, cited the GOP bill’s harms.

“We’re here to try to save Medicaid for millions of people” – including Colatrella – who

would lose it under McConnell’s secret legislation, the House GOP-passed American Health Care Act, or any “compromise” between the House and Senate GOP bills, Benjamin explained.

“And we’re also here to stand up for workers who would lose their health care jobs due to a bad bill,” she added.

“If this bill goes through, it’s going to affect a lot of our members” who work in low-wage occupations and can barely afford health care coverage now, said one Unite Here Local 23 member. “So we’re here to protect them,” she explained.

“Personally, I’m concerned about what the Republicans and Trump think they can get away with,” added an AFSCME member. The president has – with the Republican congressional leaders – made ACA repeal a top priority.

The senators blasted McConnell’s secrecy on health care. They also said he won’t get away with it.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., told the crowd that seven of the Senate’s 52 Republicans are “leaning no” on McConnell’s bill, with another three undecided. All 46 Democrats and both independents will oppose it, Schumer predicted.

The GOP measure needs at least 50 votes to pass, with Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, there to break a tie.

But to ensure that the GOP measure goes down the drain, senators implored the crowd, both in D.C. and nationwide, to keep the pressure on.

“Our job is not to throw 23 million Americans off of health care,” declared Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt. “If the bill passes, a lot of those Americans will die, and a lot of those Americans will suffer…We have to stand up in every state and community and tell the Republican leadership, ‘No, we will not throw millions off health care to give a tax cut to the wealthy. We’re going to improve Obamacare (the ACA), not destroy it.”

“The only thing I know that’s a cure” for nationwide “anxiety and anger” about GOP health care plans “is political action,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

“They don’t have the votes yet,” Murphy said of McConnell and the Republican leaders. “So every phone call you can make, every friend you can pull in makes a difference. They might get” the votes “but we will lie down on the railroad tracks to stop this,” he promised.

Murphy had several final reasons for senators, and voters, to oppose the Republicans’ health care bill.

“This is morally bankrupt. This is evil. This is wrong and we have to stop it. And if they do this, there’ll be hell to pay all across the country,” he declared.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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