Even as the Republican plan to reform the nation's health care system cleared more procedural hurdles in the House Thursday, congressional Democrats were revving up an aggressive public relations campaign against a bill that they say will benefit the wealthy and leave millions of people without adequate health coverage.
After all-night hearings, the Republican effort to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Health Care Act was passed out of two important House committees despite growing objections from different GOP factions. The legislation will now advance to the House budget committee.
Because they are in the minority, and unable to block this first phase of passing the Republican bill, public persuasion remains one of the few tools Democrats can use to impact the debate. Their strategy: To plant enough doubts and concerns among voters about the potential impact of the bill to help erode already shaky support for its ultimate passage.
Democrats are focusing largely on the economics of the bill. They say that the measure, which would cut $600 billion worth of taxes for the wealthy with a repeal of a 3 percent tax on those making more than $250,000 per year, doesn’t fit with Trump’s populist campaign rhetoric.
“This is a tax break for the rich, not a health care program,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
And they are targeting not only their Democratic base, who has been largely supportive of Obamacare, but also Trump voters who supported him in large part because of his promise to return economic vibrancy to middle class families.
“You know where some of the benefits will be lost? Largely in red areas,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said. “It’s a very sad transfer of wealth.”
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And Democratic efforts are getting some assistance as disappointed Republicans continue to vocalize their opposition to the bill.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, came out strongly against the process and the content of the Republican measure Thursday morning. “The fact is that this bill, as it's written today, simply would not pass the Senate because it would not reduce prices for insurance and make care affordable and personalized,” Cotton said.
He urged Republicans to slow down and start over.
But Republican leadership’s efforts to sell the bill to fellow Republicans continue. In his weekly press conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan presented reporters with a power point presentation on the bill’s contents and how it would work.
And he threw Republicans’ campaign promises back at them.
“How many people running for congress and the senate say (the will repeal Obamacare)? How many times did candidate Donald trump say that?” Ryan said. “This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here. The time is now. This is the moment.”
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With Obamacare more popular now in public opinion polls than any time in the program’s history, Democrats see fertile ground for their warnings about the impact of a repeal.
Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos, who represents a district in Illinois that Trump won, will deliver the weekly Democratic address and she said it will be focused on people in her rural district who rely on Medicaid and Obamacare.
Districts like Bustos’, which is full of Trump supporters, and swing districts won by Republican House members, are going to be a focus on Democrats’ outreach.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to the House, is targeting vulnerable Republicans during the health care debate, including Rep. Erik Paulson, R-Minn., who is a member of the Ways and Means Committee and voted for the bill to advance out of committee.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is also targeting Republicans up for re-election in 2018.
“The new Republican proposal jeopardizes everything from drug abuse prevention programs to lifesaving women’s healthcare services. It raises the cost of care for older Americans and would kick millions off the insurance rolls,” read a memo from the DSCC. “During the 2018 cycle there will be no rock that Republican Senate candidates can hide under to escape the GOP’s dangerous attack on American families.”
In an effort to put a human face on the issue, Democratic senators stood next to people with disabilities Thursday morning outside the U.S. Capitol in an emotional press conference full of concerns about the potential loss of coverage if Obamacare is repealed.
One of those in attendance, Bob Matha, said that his wife has a genetic disease and is worried about her health care future. “We don’t want to go back to the high risk pools,” Matha said. “They suck.”
The Republican plan includes federally subsidized state-based high risk pools for people with expensive medical conditions.
“I’m terrified of what will happen if this bill passes,” said Ola Ojewumi, a 26-year old woman who had a heart and kidney transplant at 12 and transplant related to cancer a decade later.