GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort appears headed for failure, again
In this June 25, 2015, file photo, students cheer as they hold up signs, outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, supporting the Affordable Care Act. | Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON — Rallies and events and a protest that halted a Senate panel meeting on health care opened a final week rush to stop a deadly Republican health care bill from Senate passage. And if the math holds, with the announcement by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine late yesterday that she will be voting no, the GOP may have let repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) slip through their fingers yet again. and multitudes of other groups sponsored rallies, e-mails to senators, events at their offices, and other means in 91 cities to pressure lawmakers to stop the measure, authored by Sens. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La. The duo wants to turn most federal health care spending into block grants to states in 2020, then cut them down, and then out in 2027.

That would throw up to 32 million people—millions of them elderly, poor, or both, who now have their health care costs picked up by Medicaid—off the nation’s health care rolls.

Unions from a variety of sectors leaped into the fray. United Health Care Workers-West, a Service Employees division, set up 10 phone banks statewide to call Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both D-Calif., to ensure they oppose the measure. The union noted 35 percent of the bill’s cuts would hit California alone.

Meanwhile, phone lines to senators’ offices were jammed. The front office staffers of Senate Minority Whip, Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for example, were constantly answering calls one after another. Most callers opposed the Graham-Cassidy measure.

Many callers mixed in support for single-payer government-run health care, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the week before. That week, support for his measure, S1804, dominated the calls, the front-desk staffers said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., speaks at a rally of health care advocates, grassroots activists and others, in Washington, Sept. 19. | Andrew Harnik / AP

Callers and visitors to Republicans’ offices urged them to vote the measure down, while callers and visitors to Democrats and the two independents, Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, thanked them for prior votes against GOP health care schemes and urged them to stay consistent.

The recent weeks of opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill build on prior enormous nationwide opposition to other GOP health care schemes, which failed in the Republican-run Senate earlier this year. Opinion polls show only one-third, or less, of all voters support the latest GOP plan.

Race to repeal

Nevertheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., plans a vote on Graham-Cassidy legislation by Sept. 29. It’s the ruling Republicans’ latest attempt to “repeal and replace” the seven-year-old ACA, known as Obamacare, but speakers at the events made the point that it’s just repeal, with no replacement.

McConnell needs a quick vote because the deadline for when he can pass the bill with only 50 votes, plus GOP Vice President Mike Pence as a tie-breaker, is midnight Sept. 30. After that, he needs at least 60, and the GOP holds only 52 of the 100 Senate seats.

Two Republicans previously said they’ll vote it down. One more Republican Senate vote against the measure kills it. All 46 Democrats and both independents plan to vote against the GOP health care bill. Late in the day on Sept. 25, Maine’s Susan Collins provided that vote.

A planned sit-in at the office of one undecided Republican, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, fizzled when only seven people showed up. They met with a staffer who said the senator wants to know its impact on her heavily rural and high-health-care-cost state’s residents. A young doctor who works at a clinic in a low-income area of D.C. said she came there to make the case for her patients.

Wheelchair protest rolls over Hatch

But while that D.C. demo fizzled, the protest at the Senate Finance Committee hearing—a snap session called with little notice to give the impression lawmakers were actually considering the health care legislation—rather than voting on a measure most have never seen, was another matter.

“No cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!” the hundreds of protesters, virtually all of them in wheelchairs, chanted. Capitol police had to remove them one by one. Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, had to call off the hearing until they were all evicted. The hearing room was jammed.

“The Senate has a new healthcare repeal bill that’s the worst yet, especially for California!” United Health Care Workers-West alerted its members. The union outlined the blow that the GOP measure would deal to that state alone, including dumping 32 million people from their current coverage, a large bump in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, and the potential axing of over 200,000 healthcare jobs.

It also encouraged all its members to join the phone banking efforts aimed at stopping the bill. The union’s phone banks were in Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oceanside, Garden Grove (Orange County), Redding, Riverside, Sacramento, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Ventura, and North Hills (San Fernando Valley).

The Communications Workers (CWA) sent out an e-mail blast to their members and retirees, giving a toll-free number (888-966-9836) which would route calls to their senators, and proclaiming the Graham-Cassidy health care bill Republicans’ “most shameful proposal yet.”

“After so many failed attempts to gut health care, the Republican leadership can’t seem to help itself: They’ve introduced yet another health care repeal bill, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

The CWA noted that although the GOP has been campaigning on “repeal and replace” for seven years, “they have never come up with an actual plan to replace the Affordable Care Act that improves access to health care.”

In the email, the union also dismissed Republican claims that the Graham-Cassidy bill was a compromise, saying that “It drastically changes how our entire health care system works, and eliminates coverage for millions of Americans.”

“Senate Republicans are trying to push through the Graham-Cassidy bill that would make our health care system much worse for working families,” said CWA President Chris Shelton in a separate statement. “It would cut protections for people with pre-existing conditions and allow insurance companies to make their health care so expensive that ordinary Americans couldn’t afford it. It would put an ‘age tax’ in place, requiring older Americans to pay thousands of dollars more, it would make health care bargaining much more difficult, and it would slash the Medicaid program.”

National protests sprint to the finish line

Besides the demonstrations in D.C., health care advocates, all denouncing the Graham-Cassidy bill and campaigning for the Affordable Care Act, for single-payer, or both, took to the streets and to letter-writing and e-mail.

The 91 events nationwide included a “die-in” in San Diego, a mass e-mail writing campaign in the Chicago suburbs, and marches in at least three cities in Maine, home to GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who voted against the last GOP health care bill and, before it was confirmed yesterday, was suspected of leaning against Graham-Cassidy. Murkowski and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also voted against the last legislation.

Texans got a head start on the rest of the country when they descended on GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz at the Texas Tribune fair on Sept. 24, at 9 am on a Sunday morning. They may have picked up Cruz, because he and Kentuckian Rand Paul feel Graham and Cassidy didn’t go far enough. Both Cruz and Paul want to repeal the ACA now without replacing it at all.

“This is our best chance to say NO to their ZOMBIECARE with our collective voices, our bodies and our people power. We’re not going to let them vote without hearing the loud voices of Texans! This is our LAST CHANCE to show the Senate what we’re made of—to tell them NO to gutting Medicaid, NO repeal of the ACA, and NO to Trumpcare,” the notice advertising the Austin event said.

“The Trumpcare zombie has risen from its stinking grave,” said four Ohio Indivisible groups and another community organization that planned a September 26 evening rally outside the Cleveland offices of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

“This time, it’s called Graham-Cassidy, and it’s even more deranged than the previous Trumpcare bills. We have to fight like hell one last time to kill it. If we make it past 11:59 PM on September 30, the Republicans would need 60 votes, not 50 + Pence, to repeal the ACA. We can’t let them steal our healthcare!” the Ohio groups said.

“Lives are on the line. If you’re feeling feisty, dress up like a zombie. Don’t feel like doing that? Wear black. Don’t have black clothes? No worries, just show up! Spread the word and get others to attend!”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.