Real-Life Health Care Struggles Versus Right-Wing Gutting of Safety Nets at Stake in Today's Senate Vote


(Editor's note: Shortly after 3 PM EST, the Senate voted 51-50, with a tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence, to begin the health care debate. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, returned from recent brain surgery to vote yes, but urged the body to return to the "old way" of doing business to create a bill based on compromise and open hearings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then put a strike-all bill on the floor, written in secret and not previously shared, with debate to follow. More updates and analysis to follow.)

The Senate is poised on the edge of a cliff where a vote late Tuesday will reveal if Republican senators are willing to preserve health coverage for tens of millions of Americans under Obamacare and Medicaid, or will gut those safety nets while giving the rich a major tax cut.

The body’s Republican and Democratic leaders offered conflicting versions of reality in opening remarks, hours before the body will reconvene on a motion to proceed with the House-passed bill to repeal Obamacare, gut Medicaid and reverse some taxes on the richest Americans. The Senate has proposed amendments that make even deeper cuts to Medicaid, reducing its budget by a third.

“We have a Senate with a great chance before us to do our part now,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “If other senators agree and join me on voting yes on a motion to proceed, we can stand one step closer to sending legislation to the president for his signature. I hope everyone will seize the moment, I certainly will... Inaction will do nothing to solve Obamacare’s problems, offering relief to those who need it. In fact, it will make things worse for our constituents all across the country.”

McConnell didn’t acknowledge that tens of millions of people could lose their current coverage or see greatly increased costs—all but the youngest and healthiest Americans, as independent congressional analysts have repeatedly said. Instead, the Republican Leader threatened senators who might vote no, repeating President Trump’s bullying from Monday. 

“I’d like to reiterate what the president said yesterday,” McConnell said. “Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you’re just fine with the Obamacare nightmare. That’s a position that even Democrats have found hard to defend. Remember President Clinton called Obamacare ‘the craziest thing in the world.’ And a Democratic governor said that it was no longer affordable. You won’t hear me say this often, but they’re right… So I hope colleagues will consider Obamacare’s history of failures, the unaffordable costs, the scarce choices, the burdens on middle-class families as they cast their vote this afternoon.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer replied that the course being plotted by McConnell was to rubber stamp a bill that would be close to what the House passed. That would then position that body’s right-wingers to make even deeper cuts in a House-Senate conference committee, which will cobble together a final proposal for each chamber to vote on.

“If the Senate manages to pass something to get to conference in the House, the likely compromise in the House, in the conference, is either a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or something close to it,” Schumer said. “It will certainly mean drastic cuts in Medicaid, huge tax cuts for the rich, no help for those with pre-existing conditions, and million and millions losing health care, particularly in our poorer and more rural states.”

“That’s the only thing that our Republicans have been able to agree on,” he continued. “The hard right Freedom Caucus in the House would never accept a Republican bill that only repeals a few regulations in the ACA, but leaves much of it in place. No, they want full repeal, and, at minimum, deep deep cuts to Medicaid, huge huge tax breaks for the wealthy, and millions and millions, every states in this nation, losing their health care.”

Schumer urged Republicans not to fall for this “ruse.”

“To my Republican friends, who repeatedly said that full repeal without replace would be a disaster, to my Republican friends who have opposed the deep and drastic cuts to Medicaid, I say to you, ‘Don’t be fooled by this ruse,’” he said. “We all know the ruse that’s going on. The ruse is send it back to the House and then we will see what they’ll send us. We know what they’ll send us. We may not know every detail. It will either be full repeal without replace or something far too closed to that… Do not fall for the ruse that the Majority leader is putting together. We know what’s going on. We all know.”

Stay tuned. The Senate’s debate and vote this afternoon will reveal whether reality—the real-life struggles of Americans seeking affordable comprehensive health care—will hold the day, or whether right-wing ideology will prevail, where the easy anger of fact-averse campaign trail rhetoric wins the day.

This is a vote that transcends political gamesmanship, even though pundits will declare partisan winners and losers. Millions of real lives are at stake. The country will soon see what their elected representatives stand for. 

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