Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has been getting an earful on Republicans’ health care bill. For days, his staff has been fielding thousands of angry constituent calls a day.
“We have a very efficient office answering phones, and they work — and they are really, really good,” Corker said, sidestepping a question about the likelihood of Republican lawmakers coming to an agreement. “They have had so many calls, it’s been hard for people to get through. As hard as our staff is working, and, look, they are really, really good.”
Already, major health groups like the American Medical Association and the American Heart Association have panned the bill. Conservative groups don’t like it either, calling it a failed attempt at repealing Obamacare.
Republicans had been planning to vote this Thursday, but late Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed the upper chamber would not be voting on the health bill this week. They would “continue discussions,” and vote after the July 4 recess. Since the announcement, a growing number of Republican senators have come out against the bill, spanning the entirety of the Republican Party’s ideological spectrum.
Moderate Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) are “no” votes; tried-and-true party stalwart Sen. Jerry Moran (KS) is a “no”; ultra-conservatives Sens. Mike Lee (UT) and Ted Cruz (TX) also said they’re against the bill.
No one, it seems, is interested in making the affirmative case for this bill. Even those willing to vote for moving it along, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) don’t have much to say about the bill’s merits: "I have lots of concerns," McCain told reporters Monday.
There’s no getting around it: The Senate’s first attempt at health care reform has failed. And it’s likely because far too many senators are hearing the case against the bill — virtually no one seems to be for it.
The left is mobilizing against the bill
In the absence of a wall of defense around the bill, congressional Democrats, medical groups, and activists launched an all-out blitz against it — taking over the airwaves, holding rallies, and jamming Senate phone lines.
Revolution Messaging reported that it connected 90,000 calls to the Senate to express opposition to the Republican health bill. MoveOn.Org helped organize a “People’s Filibuster” that drew a large crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters and other activists Tuesday afternoon. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) held a Facebook Live event to discuss the bill Monday night on the Capitol steps, and it transformed into an impromptu rally with hundreds of people.
“The American people from coast to coast have said that this is unacceptable,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who spent the weekend campaigning against the bill in West Virginia and Ohio, said en route to a rally outside the Capitol. “I’d wager you there’s not one state in the country that supports throwing millions of people off health insurance for tax breaks for the wealthy.”
Then there was the vociferous interest group opposition to the bill. The American Medical Association excoriated the legislation, saying it violated doctors’ principles of “First, do no harm.” The American Hospital Association blasted it for hurting “our most vulnerable patients.”
A few weeks ago, some activists on the front lines of the health care fight argued that Democratic congressional leaders weren’t doing all they could to stop Obamacare repeal. But by last week, their concerns had more or less evaporated. For more than a week, Senate Democrats have withheld consent on legislation and invoked the two-hour rule, prematurely cutting off committee hearings, according to a Senate aide.
“This is a key win in a long fight,” said CREDO political director Murshed Zaheed in an email. “The momentum in the fight over health care in the United States is on the side of the anti-Trump resistance.”
The bill is also getting hit hard from the right
Fervent left-leaning anti-Trump groups aren’t the only voices against this bill; distaste for the Senate’s health bill spans party affiliation.
Just like with the House’s American Health Care Act, prominent lobby groups from the right have also decried Senate leadership for not going far enough with Obamacare repeal efforts. From the American Enterprise Institute, which called the bill a start but far from a “finished product,” to those at the conservative Heritage Foundation who said the bill missed a “key opportunity” to repeal more of Obamacare’s regulations, the right hasn’t come out in full support of the bill.
“This Senate bill needs to get better,” Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network's political arm, said at a donors weekend last week. “It has to get better.”
The group, which for years has led an assertive campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has called the Senate’s bill a mere “nip and tuck” of Obamacare, and plans to lobby for more conservative changes in the legislation.
Club for Growth, another conservative advocacy group — which aggressively campaigned against Trump during the election — had the same concerns, going so far as to say that the Senate’s health bill would “make our nation’s failing health care system worse.”
“Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore,” Club for Growth president David McIntosh said in a statement. “Because that’s exactly what the Senate GOP health care bill does: It restores Obamacare. And while it’s hard to imagine, in some ways the Senate’s legislation would.”
The group that likes this bill is notorious for its support of tax cuts — that should tell you something
While Republicans’ bills to repeal and replace Obamacare is overwhelmingly unpopular in public polling, and among many industry voices, there is support among a small contingent of lobby groups: those that want to see the bills’ tax cuts go through.
The US Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, has urged Republican lawmakers to support the repeal-and-replace bills all along, and on Tuesday it once again threw its support behind the Better Care Reconciliation Act.
According to the chamber’s “key vote alert” letter, the way their folks see it, this bill would “repeal the most egregious taxes and mandates of the ACA, which will help lower the cost of health care coverage and allow employers to create jobs. The bill repeals the medical device tax that unfairly penalizes American manufacturers, and zeros out the employer mandate penalties.”
The argument alludes to the fundamental structure of the Republican health bill: a proposal that cuts Medicaid, a health service for poorer Americans and the disabled and elderly, by $772 billion over the next 10 years, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, to pay for the tax cuts on high-income people, fees on manufacturers, and Obamacare’s excise taxes.
Basically the chamber is saying this bill will reduce the burden on health insurance companies and manufacturers — with less focus on how it might impact the American people in need of health care.
That alone, however, isn’t enough to convince Republicans in the Senate to vote for it.