Democrats Don't Think Trumpcare Is Dead

There could still be a vote soon on Senate GOP legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Democrats warned on Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accompanied by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), arrives to speak to the media about plans to repeal and replace Obamacare on Capitol Hill. (Aaron Bernstein / Reuters)

Republicans backed off a plan to vote this week on legislation rolling back much of President Obama’s signature healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act. But Democrats don’t think this is the end of Trumpcare.

“It’s far from over. McConnell said he’s going to come back to it soon,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said in an interview at the Capitol. “We’re not taking anything for granted.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday afternoon that the Senate would “not be on the bill this week,” as Republican Senators continue “discussions within our conference on the differences that we have.” But he added that “we’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.” McConnell only needs 50 Republican senators to pass the legislation—assuming Vice President Pence breaks a tie —because Republicans are using a process known as budget reconciliation to evade a Democratic filibuster.

A number of Republican senators, however, have balked at the bill. Some conservative have argued it does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare, while moderates have expressed concern that it would too far in cutting Medicaid, the program that provides health insurance for low-income Americans. The Congressional Budget Office concluded on Monday that the Senate bill would leave 22 million Americans without insurance over the course of a decade.

With little control over the levers of power in Congress, Democrats have attempted to draw attention to what they say will be the harmful impacts of the Senate GOP health care legislation.

Senate Democrats convened a flurry of press conferences this week to denounce the bill, while Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is technically not a Democrat, but is nevertheless part of Senate Democratic leadership, held rallies in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania to rally opposition against the bill.

Now the message from Democrats is that the fight isn’t over.

“They weren’t able to pass their cruelest, and most hurtful version of the bill, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to come back with a bill that is still cruel, and hurtful,” Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts said. “I do not believe that we are going to be able to preserve Obamacare unless we work every day, 24-hours a day, until the Republicans finally give up,” he added. “We have to keep our energy level high … That’s the only way we are going to win.”

Senate Democrats may be particularly wary of declaring victory too early after watching House GOP legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act stall out, only to be revived weeks later and passed.

The challenge now for opponents of the healthcare bill will be to keep the pressure on Republican senators during the July 4th recess, where they will return to their districts.

“If we survive this week with the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid intact, the lesson anyone who cares about health care has to learn is that it’s dangerous to take your eye of the ball even for a day,” Ben Wikler of the progressive advocacy group said in an interview before McConnell’s Tuesday announcement. “If Trumpcare isn’t passed, isn’t defeated, but is merely delayed this week, it is absolutely vital for anyone who cares about the healthcare system to dial up their pressure over the fourth of July recess.”

Of course, Republicans will be making their case for the bill’s passage too.

“The schedule may have changed a little but, but one thing hasn’t changed and that is that Obamacare is collapsing,” Republican Senator John Thune said on Tuesday during a press conference. “It is a failed system that needs to be replaced, and we believe the legislation that we’re trying to get up on the Senate floor and consider there will take America in a better direction.”

But even for their apparent reluctance to declare victory, some Senate Democrats evidently believe the road to passage for Republicans will be more difficult now that McConnell has delayed its vote.

“This bill is like a stinking fish, it’s just going to get worse,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said in an interview. “We’re going to bring this to every state across the country. This is what we wanted. We wanted to be able to bring this debate out of Washington and back to our states. I think that’s going to be the death knell for this bill.”

Democrats also hope the delay will create an opportunity for constituents opposed to the bill to convey their objections directly to Republican senators.

“I think it’s going to be a very tough two weeks for the Republicans to be hearing from their constituents at home who have now been educated as to what the impact of these cuts will be on the services their families receive,” Markey said. “I think it’s only going to complicate dramatically the complexity of their political dilemma.”