As Congress goes on recess, Republican senators get an earful from constituents, including a ‘die-in’ at Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s office.
COMPILED FROM WIRE REPORTS
WASHINGTON – The abrupt decision Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to temporarily shelve a vote on the Republican Obamacare overhaul gives him a few extra weeks to build support for a revised bill before it risks becoming hopelessly stalled by the opposition.
McConnell will be aided by what amounts to a $200 billion piggy bank to push Republican holdouts over the line. That’s the bill’s extra savings compared with the House version that McConnell can tap to provide perks to individual senators, from more opioid assistance to expanded tax-free health savings accounts.
A similar strategy – delay and enticements – worked well in the House, where Republicans last month passed their health care bill on the third try.
Senate Republicans reconvened behind closed doors Wednesday trying to break the impasse on their health care overhaul but emerged with no apparent strategy for resolving differences by an end-of-week deadline. McConnell of Kentucky vowed to try again for a vote after the Fourth of July recess.
Senators were aiming for a revised bill by Friday – after the Florida Courier’s Wednesday night press time – the Republican Whip, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, told reporters, so it could be assessed by the Congressional Budget Office during the break.
Wednesday’s lengthy lunchtime huddle appeared to run long on ideas but short on consensus. As many as 10 Republican senators now publicly oppose the bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes in the face of Democratic opposition.
At the heart of the controversy is a bill that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would lead to 22 million fewer Americans having health insurance in 2026 than would be the case under current law.
Fresh polling Wednesday showed paltry support for the Republican approach to overhauling the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which has enjoyed a surge in popularity now that Republicans are closer than ever to repealing it. A USA Today poll put approval of the Senate GOP bill at 12 percent.
Republicans, though, are under enormous pressure from their most conservative supporters – and big-dollar donors, including the powerful Koch network – to deliver on their promised to end Obamacare.
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, suggested that President Donald Trump convene all 100 senators – much the way then-President Barack Obama did during his first days in office for a session at Blair House – to see how they might be able to work together to improve, rather than repeal, the Affordable Care Act.
Not a full repeal
At its core, the Senate bill, like its companion in the House, does not fully repeal Obamacare.
Instead, it ends the Obamacare mandate that all Americans must carry insurance and cuts nearly $550 billion in taxes that were imposed on the health care industry and high-income Americans to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage and providing subsidies for private insurance.
The result, according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center, is a big tax break for the wealthiest Americans. The top 1 percent of households, those earning more than $875,000 a year, would average a $45,000 tax break, the center said. Those earning beyond $5 million would get a break of about $250,000. Meanwhile, middle-income families earning between $55,000 and $93,000 would see a $280 tax cut.
Prolonging the debate gives Democrats and other critics time to mobilize, and ensures that senators will be exposed to an onslaught of opposition as they head home for the weeklong holiday break to defend a bill estimated to leave millions more Americans without insurance.
On Wednesday, Democratic-leaning groups organized Orlando activist to hold a “die-in” outside of Senator Marco Rubio’s office. They lay down holding gravestones that detail causes of death due to loss of health care and pre-existing condition coverage, demanding that Senator Rubio vote against the Senate health care bill.
According to a press release, the event was “part of a statewide day of action where community members will highlight the extreme difficulties that veterans, women, and people with disabilities will face trying to receive care if the Republican plan passes.”
Affecting state politics
Even as the Senate delayed their planned procedural vote, the proposal was roiling Florida’s political landscape ahead of the 2018 elections.
Democrats running for the Senate and in the state’s governor’s race hammered away at the GOP, suggesting that they saw a chance to go on the offensive over an issue that has dogged them for years. Republicans running in the marquee contests, meanwhile, seemed to be doing everything they could to take a definitive stand on the legislation.
Democrats were already blasting away at Republican candidates in Florida over the measure, underscoring changes in Medicaid spending and the reductions in tax credits for some low-income workers. The attacks suggested Democrats now see Obamacare, which had generally hurt the party since 2010 but has recently increased in popularity, as a net positive.
Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Democrat who’s running for governor, labeled the Republican bill “heartless” as she delivered more than 4,000 petitions against “Trumpcare,” named for President Donald Trump, to Rubio’s Florida Capitol office.
Graham also blasted term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott for not agreeing to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, and expressed hope that the GOP bill wouldn’t pass.
“But if that does happen, then we’re going to need an even better governor here in Florida,” she said. “The one we’ve had … should not be able to sleep at night.”
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, one of Graham’s opponents for the Democratic nomination, called for an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would recognize health care as “a fundamental right of all Floridians.”
“There is a public trust for the government to care for its citizens, and our state can no longer be ambiguous about that moral obligation,” Gillum said in a statement issued by his campaign.
“When healthcare is under attack in Washington, we’re going to lean into the challenge of healthcare in the Sunshine State and live our values.”
Highlighting the potential differences that exist even within the party, Graham was equivocal Tuesday when asked whether she would support such an amendment, stressing her support for a public option in the state.
“I think health care is a right,” she said. “But I want to make sure the way we go about it is doable.”
Winter Park businessman Chris King, the third declared Democratic candidate for governor, didn’t comment publicly on the bill Tuesday, but has in the past criticized a previous version passed by the House and attacked Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam for not taking a stance on the bill.
Putnam is the only major declared Republican candidate for governor in 2018. A spokeswoman said Tuesday that Putnam’s campaign had no comment about his position on the bill.
American Bridge, a Democratic campaign organization, said Monday that Putnam was “complicit” in the federal legislation.
“If Adam Putnam wants to be governor, he should come out and propose a plan of his own instead of hiding behind this disaster of a bill that gives tax breaks to the wealthiest few at the expense of Floridians’ health,” said Lizzy Price, a spokeswoman for the group.
Scott spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C., lobbying federal officials on the legislation while dancing around questions about his position during television appearances.
“I think it’s very important to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Scott told business channel CNBC when asked whether he would vote for the bill. “I’m up here as a governor. I don’t have a vote. I’m up here as a governor trying to make sure the bill is good for Florida families. I know the bill is a work in progress.”
That didn’t stop U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat likely to face a re-election challenge from Scott next year, from trying to tie his would-be opponent to the bill.
“Rick Scott is supporting and urging Republican senators to vote for a bill that makes huge cuts to Medicaid, takes coverage away from 22 million people and allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans,” Nelson said in a statement issued by his office.
“If he really cared about the people of Florida, he’d be doing the exact opposite of what he’s doing now.”
Lisa Mascaro of the Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS) and Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida contributed to this report.