Progressive groups kicked their resistance to the Republican health care plan into “hyperdrive” Monday, saying a decision to delay votes until Sen. John McCain of Arizona recovers from surgery offers a golden opportunity to try and kill the bill.
Hours before the Senate gaveled in, loud chants bounced off the hard walls of the Hart Senate Office Building’s atrium, drawing staff members from their offices and prompting onlookers to whip out their camera phones, as several protesters were arrested.
“Kill the bill! Don’t kill us!” activists from a coalition of 10 groups chanted.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out similar rhetoric, saying on Twitter that if the Senate bill passes, “New Yorkers will die. Those are the stakes right now.”
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, dared GOP leaders to use the delay to hold public hearings on their health bill, which would replace Obamacare’s generous subsidies with more limited tax credits and rein in President Obama’s vast expansion of Medicaid, while capping federal funding for the program overall.
“This will allow members to hear unfiltered and unbiased analysis of how the bill will affect their states and the health and financial security of the constituents they represent, including the impact of Medicaid cuts to vulnerable populations like children, people with disabilities, and people with pre-existing conditions,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.
GOP senators largely drafted their bill behind closed doors, after the House GOP passed its own plan by a razor-thin margin in May after a messy public debate.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had hoped to begin voting on his own version this week — after two months of drafting, intra-GOP debate and redrafting — yet Mr. McCain’s unexpected surgery put those plans on hold, since GOP leaders need his vote even to proceed onto the bill.
Democrats are united in opposition, and two Republicans have already jumped ship from the 52-seat GOP majority, meaning Mr. McConnell cannot spare any more party troops and still pass a bill, with Vice President Mike Pence serving as tie-breaker.
Mr. McCain’s office late Saturday said the senator would be recovering in Arizona this week, though it is unclear if his recuperation might stretch beyond that.
“He will be back with us soon,” Mr. McConnell said.
GOP leaders canceled the first two weeks of its August recess, buying them more time, though that stretch was supposed to be spent on judicial nominations and other items that have been help up in the pipeline.
Mr. McConnell is expected to use the delay to try and push wavering moderates into the “yes” column on health care.
The delay should also give the Congressional Budget Office more time to score a pivotal plan by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas that would let insurers offer plans that do not comply with Obamacare’s coverage requirements.
While a good score could bring Republicans on board, insurers have blasted the plan as “simply unworkable” and moderates fear it would violate their pledge to safeguard people with preexisting conditions, since they would have to bank on there being enough federal money to blunt their rising costs under the Cruz plan.
Liberal activists on Monday viewed the extra time is a precious commodity, saying it could give them enough room to blunt any momentum for a repeal push that has taken much longer than many expected when Republicans seized control of all levers of political power in November.
Planned Parenthood said it will loudly protest a part of the plan that would redirect funding for their organization to community health centers.
Republicans have been attempting to strip out money for Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest network of abortion clinics, for years, arguing that while taxpayer money generally doesn’t go to pay for abortions, it does subsidize the clinics and allows them to perform the controversial procedure.
“It’s one of the few provisions [in the bill] that go into effect right away,” said Deirdre Schifeling, national director of organizing and campaigns for Planned Parenthood. “It would have a devastating impact immediately.”
Meanwhile, Republicans who control both sides of Congress are itching to turn to other matters, from a push to revamp the tax code to resolving thorny debates over raising the federal debt limit and funding the government in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky say the best way to move on is to repeal Obamacare now and sort out the replacement later.
But supporters of leadership’s plan say it’s time to debate, amend and pass the existing bill, arguing Republicans must “stand up and be counted” after seven years of pledging repeal.
“Republicans have got to get something done. They’ve got to stand up and be counted and if they are not, they are going to go down to defeat in 2018,” Tommy Thompson, who as Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush pushed through the Medicare prescription-drug benefit program, said on Fox News. “There are many ways to fix this bill. So let’s hope they get started and let’s get moving.”
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, urged senators on both sides of the aisle to lay down their swords and back the plan, citing rising costs on Obamacare exchanges that failed to attract enough young and healthy enrollees during Mr. Obama’s tenure.
“When faced with the choice of our reform plan or the status quo, the choice is clear,” Mr. Cornyn said.
Yet twice as many Americans would rather keep Obamacare than see the GOP usher in their plan, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday.
Half of those polled prefer Mr. Obama’s law, while roughly a quarter favor the Republican bill and 13 percent don’t like either. The rest wanted to see “something else” or had no opinion.
“The American people do not want this repeal bill passed,” said Ben Wikler, a director at MoveOn.org.
Pollsters said about six in 10 Republican voters like the plan their party’s senators crafted, while 11 percent prefer Obamacare.
• S.A. Miller contributed to this report.
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