On the eve of Tuesday’s Senate vote to begin debate on replacing Obamacare, opponents and supporters played to the cameras in an 11th-hour attempt to swing public opinion their way.
At the White House on Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump was flanked by “victims of Obamacare,” as he shared their personal stories of high premiums, narrow physician networks and other “broken promises” under the Affordable Care Act.
Several hours later at the Capitol, Obamacare supporters staged a Trumpcare “Die-In,” because the “zombie (legislation) is back from the dead,” said a Facebook advisory for the event.
Participants were asked to carry cardboard tombstones and wear dark clothing in the funeral-like protest because “without health care coverage, people will die.”
The not-so-subtle messaging on both sides was meant to ratchet up the already-intense pressure on Senate Republicans, who need 50 votes on Tuesday to keep the Obamacare repeal effort moving.
President Trump’s top legislative priority has faltered in the upper chamber after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, scuttled a vote on his Better Care Reconciliation Act when he couldn’t muster the needed GOP votes.
A similar vote on a repeal-only plan was likewise scrapped for lack of support and because it contained provisions that didn’t meet Senate rules. That measure had passed the Senate in 2015 but was vetoed by former President Barack Obama.
McConnell is now expected to have lawmakers vote Tuesday to begin debate on the healthcare bill that passed House of Representatives in May. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that legislation would cause 23 million people to lose health coverage by 2026
If the vote passes, Senate members would then add their own amendments to the bill.
But with little time to read the newly embraced legislation, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been critical of McConnell’s secretive, disjointed and ever-changing stewardship of the health care bill. And most observers believe Tuesday’s motion to begin floor debate will be defeated.
After seven years of promising to repeal and replace ObamaCare, President Trump said defeat is no longer an option.
“To every member of the Senate, I say this: The American people have waited long enough,” Trump said. “There’s been enough talk and no action. Now is the time for action. We are here to solve problems for the people. Obamacare has broken our health care system. It’s broken. It’s collapsing. It’s gone. And now it is up to us to get great health care for the American people. We must repeal and replace Obamacare now.”
His tone was echoed in a Twitter post early Monday morning, in which he declared in a quasi-threat that "If Republicans don't Repeal and Replace the disastrous ObamaCare, the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand!"
In an op-ed in USA Today on Monday, former Sen. David Durenberger, R-MN, said Trump and McConnell were trying to bully GOP senators into supporting the measure. He urged the lawmakers to resist.
“Take it from me: A ‘no’ vote on the Motion to Proceed this week is the only one that will be defensible in the years to come,” Durenberger wrote. “Never in all my years did I experience the level of bullying we see today. It doesn't look good in Minnesota, and I suspect it doesn’t look any better in your state.”
Public support for the ACA has increased as the GOP has turned up their efforts to dismantle the law, according to monthly polling by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
More than 70 percent of Americans want Congressional Republicans and Democrats to fix rather than repeal the ACA, while 23 percent want the GOP to keep crafting their own legislation to topple Obamacare, according to a July poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Among Trump supporters, 47 percent want the GOP to keep working on their legislation and 46 percent prefer they repair the legislation with Democrats, the poll found.
Senators are facing pressure from both sides.
Martha McGrath of Franklin, W. Va., was diagnosed with thyroid and breast cancer in 2012 after she broke her femur while walking on her sheep farm in June 2012. While in the hospital, her husband, James was laid off from his job as a defense contractor, forcing McGrath to obtain Obamacare coverage that helped her pay for bone scans, CT scans and the expensive cancer medication, Ibrance, which costs nearly $10,000 for a month's treatment, she said.
McCrath, 63, said her Obamaccare insurance costs about $1,000 per month, but with her federal tax credit of $700 dollars, she pays about $300 a month toward her premium.
"There's no way I could afford Ibrance without Obamacare," she said fighting back tears.
McGrath is hoping Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, will oppose the motion to proceed tomorrow, but "I'm worried she's going to cave in," McGrath said.
If Republican legislation cuts her financial assistance, McGrath said her husband would have to empty his 401K to pay for her care because the legislation would allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions much more for coverage. it would also provide smaller tax credits to people in their 60s like McGrath.
At the White House on Monday, however, another West Virginia resident, Stephen P. Finn of Morgantown, was calling for the repeal of Obamacare, saying it caused his employee and family insurance costs to skyrocket.
Finn runs a home for troubled youth in rural West Virginia, but when their Obamacare employee coverage jumped after two years, his employees had to get Medicaid coverage and he cut his own salary in order to qualify for Medicaid for his family.
"It worked for almost a year,” Finn said of his individual Obamacare coverage. “And then overnight things went off the rails. It went up about 300 percent."
White House correspondent Franco Ordonez contributed to this report.