Washington, D.C. is noticeably mellower with Congress beginning its August recess. Our “worst-in-the-U.S.” traffic is noticeably lighter. The sidewalks are emptier. The news from Capitol Hill has slowed to a trickle. But the summer doldrums are no time for advocates here in D.C. or the 50 states to let our guard down. (We just discussed this on “Behind the Headlines” from Capitol Hill on Facebook Live.)
Last week, we narrowly escaped the passage of healthcare legislation that would have been devastating for poorer, older, and sicker Americans. The heroism of three GOP Senators and a united Democratic party pulled us back from the brink by voting against the latest Obamacare repeal bill.
Make no mistake, intense grassroots activism in Congressional districts across the country played no small part in the defeat of repeal legislation in both houses of Congress. From New Hampshire to Nevada, everyday Americans challenged their elected representatives to protect their healthcare – and won in a heart-pounding showdown.
In the end, only Senators Collins, Murkowski, and McCain had the courage to defy party leadership and do the right thing. That’s a thin reed on which to hang future hopes. If a single one of those votes had gone the other way, at least 22 million Americans would have been well on their way to losing healthcare coverage – and the Medicaid program would have been decimated. In fact, it’s disappointing that some of the Republican moderates who seemed to oppose the various repeal bills voted yes in the end. Perhaps it’s because Senator McCain’s no vote gave them cover. But where is the courage in that?
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it’s time to “move on,” Speaker Paul Ryan signaled that the House isn’t done trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, President Trump continues to threaten to cut off crucial cost-sharing payments, spooking insurers and threatening to drive up premiums. As Phil Moeller pointed out in his column for PBS NewsHour, there’s a real danger that the majority party will re-attack Obamacare after August recess ends.
With Capitol Hill’s largely silent and long-postponed summer vacations underway, there is little appetite for re-engaging in nasty policy fights. But when the leaders and their troops are rested, there is little doubt that [they] will be back at it again. – Phil Moeller, PBS NewsHour
This means that we in the advocacy community cannot simply relax this month – tempting as that may be. Advocates and everyday activists must continue to deliver the message to our elected representatives that it’s time to stop trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act and work across the aisle to improve it, as National Committee President Max Richtman argued in The Hill newspaper this week. We must maintain the drumbeat whenever and wherever we encounter members of Congress this summer: at their district offices, by phone, by email, or around town.
Make no mistake: the activism we saw last winter and spring made a difference. Members of Congress heard their constituents loud and clear at contentious town halls. Phone lines, fax lines, and email accounts were jammed. Congress heard us when we said “Hands Off Our Healthcare!”
But even after all that full-throated activism, several GOP moderates in the House and Senate still caved when it was time to cast crucial votes. We came dangerously close to losing the Affordable Care Act. If anything, we must step up our activism. We must make the case for protecting the healthcare of seniors – and all Americans – even more vociferously, letting our leaders know in personal terms the true impact of changes to our healthcare coverage. But we must also demand that our elected representatives talk to us. Hold town halls, don’t cancel them. Keep phone lines open instead of shutting them down. Hear us instead of hiding. And if there are future votes to undermine our healthcare, we must insist that more GOP moderates stick to their stated principles instead of running with the herd.