© 2023 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Northwest Democrats Blast Senate GOP's 'Meaner' Health Care Bill

Hours after Republican leaders released the 140-page draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, senior senators from Oregon and Washington were taking questions alongside the top Democrat in the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Schumer spoke first, calling the bill a "wolf in sheep's clothing," but with "sharper teeth" than the legislation the House of Representatives narrowly passed in May.

Several Democrats said if the House version was "mean" — as President Donald Trump described it — then the Senate bill is "meaner."

Trump has been expressing hope about the chances of major changes to health care, but he's not out front pushing the Senate bill, at least not yet.

“He wants to bring the stakeholders to the table, have those conversations and we’ll get back to you,” said Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as quoted by Politico.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., agreed the Republicans' health care bill is dishonest.

“The Senate Republicans are trying to con Americans into thinking that they are fixing problems here, when in fact what they’re doing is causing new ones,” Wyden told reporters.

Republicans intend to hold a Senate vote on the health care bill as soon as next week, before the July 4 recess.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not completed its analysis of the bill.

The bill's behind-closed-doors drafting process left some members of the majority party with questions and concerns, according to "whip list" summaries from The New York Times, Washington Post and The Hill.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the bill is a "draft" — a draft that's immediately unpopular enough with four conservative Republicans they've publicly announced their opposition. If they were to vote "no," and if Democrats hold together and vote "no," the bill would fall two votes short of passing.

Neither Republican senator from Idaho has immediately embraced the bill. Sen. James Risch, through a spokesperson, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying he “is reading and studying the bill carefully." The Post listed Sen. Mike Crapo as not having commented.

Senate Democrats wasted no time in digging into the legislation's details and lambasting them.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said the bill would take away health insurance for 400,000 Oregonians covered by the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid. Merkley said it would gut coverage for the state's poorest residents, including many children and seniors in nursing homes.

Merkley added that for people with pre-existing conditions, "this Republican bill should terrify you." He argued the policies could allow insurance companies to add on fees when people get sick or pregnant.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell spoke in the same vein. From a policy perspective, she called the bill "a war on Medicaid," and said Republicans are presenting a "a hoax."

Some GOP officials have accused Democrats of being unwilling to collaborate on the bill. Wyden said that wasn't true.

"Not once — not once — have I, or my colleagues been asked by a single Republican to work on this bill, or to discuss bipartisan fixes to the Affordable Care Act," Wyden said. "The statement ... that Democrats refused to work with the other side is not just a fiction, it is a gross fiction."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., attacked the bill both for what's in it, calling it "heartless," and how it was drafted.

“It has really become abundantly clear why – exactly why — Senate Republicans have been hiding this Trumpcare plan from patients and families and Democrats, and even from many Republicans,” Murray said.

Supportive Republicans have said a new approach to health care is necessary because the exchanges set up under Obamacare are struggling, costs are rising and insurance carriers are pulling out. Democrats said those are problems that Republicans exacerbated by not investing in the existing health care law.

Murray put pressure on Republicans skeptical of the bill to stand up to party leaders.

"I know many Senate Republicans have said they are not happy with the secret process Republican leaders have been conducting," Murray said. "Well, my message to them is saying you're not happy is not enough — you have power to do something about it."

Last month, when House Republicans passed their health care bill, House Democrats jeered at them, suggesting passing the bill would harm their chances at re-election.

Murray offered the same warning to Senate Republicans Thursday.

"Let me be very clear — if Republicans jam through this plan, they will own the consequences," Murray said.

But Merkley and political observers note that some of the timelines in the Senate version of the bill have been tweaked, in light of the election calendar.

<p>Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., third from left, accompanied by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., second from left, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., right, and healthcare leaders, discuss the effects of the proposed Republican healthcare legislation on families at a news conference on Capitol Hill</p>

Andrew Harnik


Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., third from left, accompanied by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., second from left, Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., right, and healthcare leaders, discuss the effects of the proposed Republican healthcare legislation on families at a news conference on Capitol Hill

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.