Fate of Obamacare Rests with GOP's Drafted in Darkness' Health Bill

By:  Joel Connelly
Source: The Seattle Pi

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., were headliners at the Boeing Aerospace Machinists' hall seven years ago, as longtime advocates of health care reform celebrated passage of the Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare."

The two Washington senators are now part of Democrats' last-ditch defense of that law, with a secretive, all-male task force of Republican senators set to reveal a "discussion draft" of their bill on Thursday. 

The next 10 days will make the difference.  The Republican bill -- whatever is in it -- is slated to go to the Senate floor on Tuesday.

The Republicans were given a tailwind Tuesday night as GOP candidate Karen Handel narrowly prevailed over Democrat Jon Ossoff in a special U.S. House election in Georgia's 6th Congressional District.  The election filled the seat of former Rep. Tom Price, named to the Trump cabinet.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that the rushed health care schedule still affords "plenty of time" to know what's in the bill.

"We are going to make every effort to pass the bill that dramatically changes the current health care law," said McConnell.

The outrage voiced by Murray and Cantwell is genuine, not staged.  The normally restrained Cantwell declared:

"We will not let a bill that was drafted in darkness and cuts Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans get rammed through the Senate without putting up a fight.  I urge my Republican colleagues to come out of darkness and onto the floor and give us their ideas to increase access to health care."

Murray seized on President Trump's description of a House-passed health plan as "mean."  Of course, Trump celebrated its passage with Republican lawmakers at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

"This is a man who knows about "mean" -- from making fun of a reporter with disabilities, to belittling our friend the junior senator from Florida ("Little Marco Rubio") to even impugning the senior senator from Arizona, a war hero -- when President Trump says something is mean, that certainly means something," Murray said in a Senate floor speech.

Why should we pay attention in this Washington?

"The Affordable Care Act has been good for Washington state," The Seattle Times editorial page, the state's ex cathedraestablishment voice, recently editorialized.

Almost 2 million people in the Evergreen State have coverage under the Affordable Care Act.. 

Expansion of Medicaid has had a particular impact, lowering the number of people without insurance, in the Eastern Washington district of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. But McMorris Rodgers is a human cornucopia of talking points denouncing Obamacare.

The percentage of uninsured people of Washington is below 6 percent.  The state's health exchange, in particular, has cut numbers of uninsured young people.

What's in the Senate Republicans' bill?  Even many Republican senators do not know. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Tuesday predicted that Trump doesn't want to talk about Obamacare repeal "because he doesn't know what's in this bill."

Murphy and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) trekked from the U.S. Capitol to the Congressional Budget Office in search of a copy of the health care legislation. A CBO analysis predicted that the House-passed health bill would result in 23 million Americans losing health coverage. 

The secrecy is astounding in that McConnell intends to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as next week.  In 2009-10, the Democratic-controlled Senate held multiple hearings on the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, abruptly rebuffed Murray's request for a hearing in committee last week. Similar rebuffs have come from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.