Back in May, when House Republicans passed a giant tax cut for the wealthy and called it the American Health Care Act of 2017, the American people responded with rage, and rightly so.
The bill was written and passed with barely any input from citizens, Democrats or even the Congressional Budget Office. Its worst consequences -- astronomical health premium hikes, the return of pre-existing condition discrimination and lifetime limits, deep Medicaid cuts — would kill more Americans (far more) than the 9/11 terror attacks.
Any assurances that the more “responsible” Senate Republicans would rewrite and soften the odious bill before it went to the floor for a vote were swiftly torpedoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. After assembling an all-male, all-Republican working group, McConnell took the still-hot AHCA behind closed doors and barred nearly anyone else from looking at it.
And now, Senate Republicans have released a draft version of the AHCA, maintaining much of the House bill with modest changes to financial assistance for those in the lower income bracket and deeper cuts to Medicaid.
There is only one ethical and effective way for the Democratic Party to respond...
Going forward, as McConnell teases a pre-July 4th Senate vote for the AHCA, we find ourselves at a perilous crossroads with no precedent in U.S. history. The Republican Party, in full control of our government, has rejected any measure of bipartisan discourse over a piece of legislation with life-or-death implications for millions.
There is only one ethical and effective way for the Democratic Party to respond to McConnell’s reprehensible politics and protect the lives of its constituents and all Americans threatened by the AHCA. The Democrats must obstruct all Senate activity concerning the AHCA, grinding the chamber to a halt until the Republicans agree to public hearings on the bill. Not only is this the right thing to do, but thanks to the Indivisible group — an activist organization started by former Congressional aides — there is now a clear instruction manual for doing this.
To pass the AHCA swiftly, the Republican Party has utilized a procedure called “Budget Reconciliation.” This offers them the advantage of being able to pass the AHCA with only 51 votes instead of the 60 that most bills require. But there’s a catch. In return for lowering the vote threshold, the Republicans must allow Democrats to file amendments to the bill. And here’s the best part: there is no limit to how many amendments can be filed. This is how the Democrats can cause chaos and shut down the AHCA proceedings — file hundreds, even thousands of amendments, grind the Senate to a halt and force the Republicans to allow the public a glimpse at what McConnell and his team have been brewing in the shadows.
It sounds simple enough, but ironically, the greatest obstacle to making this happen is the modern Democratic Party mindset itself. Since 2008, when McConnell infamously declared that the Republican Party’s governing mission would be denying President Obama a second term, the Democrats have positioned themselves as reasonable bipartisan peacemakers. Obama himself set the example, offering olive branch after olive branch to an increasingly immovable Republican Party. It began as a noble gesture, but as the Republicans hardened, the Democrats’ obsession with bipartisanship became exasperating. It begged a salient question: if the Republicans won’t compromise, what do the Democrats gain by arriving at the bargaining table in an already-compromised position?
Obama finally took the hint and spent the last two years of his second term swinging for the fences on issues such as environmental protection, business regulation and a higher minimum wage. But things took a depressing turn during the 2016 election cycle, when Hillary Clinton and the Democratic leadership waged a campaign aimed at courting moderate Republicans instead of firing up liberals and leftists. It was a relapse, a return to the Democrats’ old ways of “going high” when the other side fought dirty, and it backfired spectacularly. Even today, with the Democratic Party on life support and the Republican Party striving to shut down any semblance of Congressional dialogue on the AHCA, the Democrats’ self-defeating compulsion to play nice, “get things done” and worship at the altar of bipartisanship might not be exhausted yet.
Many will probably push back against the idea of obstructing the AHCA proceedings because it’s “beneath” Senate decorum...
While most Democratic senators have taken to the airwaves, Facebook, and Twitter to protest McConnell’s AHCA secrecy, none have suggested holding the bill ransom with amendment filings. The optimistic way to look at this is to hope that the Democrats have a hardball tucked up their sleeve. But realistically, the Democrats will likely have to be pushed into this legislative street fight by their constituents. Many will probably push back against the idea of obstructing the AHCA proceedings because it’s “beneath” Senate decorum — something the Democrats like to congratulate themselves for protecting even as Republicans pulverize it.
Simply trying to resurrect Congressional courtesy might be enough to let Democratic lawmakers sleep well at night. But for their constituents — especially those who lack the cushion of government health coverage — there are far more urgent matters that can cause insomnia. We’ll sleep better when enough Democratic Senators wake up.
This article was originally published on June 22, 2017.
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