Schumer Slams Rollout of Senate GOP Health Care Bill

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer tore into the newly-released Republican healthcare bill on the chamber floor this morning, slamming both its provisions abrogating the Affordable Care Act and the closed-door process that crafted it.

GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell debuted his conference’s version of the American Healthcare Act with the declaration that Obamacare is “teetering on the edge” of oblivion due to the withdrawal of insurers from its healthcare markets—a phenomenon Democrats have blamed on uncertainty over the law’s future. Schumer led his 48-member conference in assailing the draft legislation, which—unlike the House counterpart that passed in May—would retain nearly all the subsidies the ACA provided to the poor, phase out its expansion to Medicaid slower and would not allow states to individually stipulate what constitutes a pre-existing condition.

But it would also make deeper cuts to Medicaid over the long term, eliminate the low-income healthcare program’s allocations to Planned Parenthood for one year, rescind most of the ACA’s taxes on high earners, repeal its mandate that all individuals who can afford insurance buy it and would permit states to waive requirements insurance cover care for new mothers, the mentally ill and emergency room patients.

“It seems designed to slash support for healthcare programs in order to give tax breaks to the very wealthy,” Schumer said, anticipating that the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the legislation’s potential impact. “I believe it will verify that millions of Americans in this great country will be able to afford insurance, or the insurance they can afford won’t cover the services they need.”

The top Democrat in Washington contrasted the outlining of the new bill, which occurred in secretive meetings solely among a select group of Republicans and staffers, with the extensive discussion that preceded the passage of Obamacare under the last administration.

“At least we had a debate. At least we had committee hearings and a process,” Schumer said. “And more broadly than that, at least we Democrats were trying to pass a healthcare bill that helped more Americans afford insurance, and tried to bring costs down, and try to end some of the more egregious practices of the healthcare industry.”

McConnell, who hopes to hold a floor vote on the bill next week, has maintained that the Democrats will enjoy an “open amendment process” in which they will be able to add last minute tweaks to the law if they can marshal majority support. Schumer, however, argued today that approach “is unfair, is truncated, is rushed” and accused his Republican counterpart of “turning truth upside-down”—demanding to know how much time the chamber will have to study and discuss each proposal.

“Can we allow at least one hour on each amendment, not two minutes? Will we have more time than 10 hours to debate the bill? I hope so,” the Democratic leader said. “But if not, please don’t call this an open and fair process. If you want to rush it through, admit the consequences.”

Because the bill deals purely in fiscal matters, it can be passed on a simple majority vote in the process of budget reconciliation, denying Democrats recourse to the filibuster. McConnell can afford to see two of his 52 members defect, as Vice President Mike Pence would be able to cast the tiebreaker vote in favor of the legislation.

The Senate and House would then have to negotiate a mutually palatable version of the measure, which would satisfy both moderates in the former and Tea Party conservatives in the latter.

Democrats in the Senate have launched a campaign to slow down and disrupt the process so as to postpone a vote on the bill until after the July 4 recess, which would leave only a few weeks before the longer summer break for both wings of the Capitol to pass and for President Donald Trump to sign the legislation into law.