Obamacare lives for now. Where do Democrats go from here?
By Mark Chiusano
The death of the GOP health care proposal is actually a bipartisan opportunity.
At least it could be, according to President Donald Trump.
Two crucial Republican senators defected Monday night, sinking the Senate’s American Health Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell then began making the even more unlikely pitch for a straight repeal of Obamacare. By Tuesday, that looked doubtful, too, and Trump was looking ahead to the collapse of Obamacare (an event he could have a direct hand in) at which point he thinks Democrats would be forced to join in and craft something new.
But would they? In New York, at least, it’s hard to imagine.
A Democratic win, for now
Democrats now have the chance to step back and regroup after a few months of frantic protesting and lobbying and standing firm against the GOP effort. It’s something of a strange position for New York progressive activists who spent much of 2017 at the ramparts.
Fight Back Bay Ridge, a group that came together to protest Trump, organized marches and meetings with Rep. Dan Donovan of Staten Island and Brooklyn, the city’s lone Republican congressman. The group declared victory when Donovan announced that he’d vote against the GOP plan in the House during its first iteration, and group members have thanked him for remaining firm ever since.
Recently, the group had been planning a rally at Donovan’s offices around Labor Day about the investigation into Russian interference and potential Trump campaign collusion. McConnell’s health care failure was welcome news. “Right now, we’re just kind of relieved that the Senate failed to pass McConnell’s bill,” said group co-founder Sally McMahon. “But we don’t want to sit around, and wait and see what happens.”
For Fight Back Bay Ridge and other progressive groups, that has meant a renewed push toward single-payer or Medicare-for-all-style health care.
“Attempts to maintain Obamacare really don’t address the issue,” says Jabari Brisport, a City Council candidate from Brooklyn who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America in New York. A single-payer system would be the way to answer the “flaws” of Obamacare, Brisport says, including providing the ability to negotiate on a federal level with insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
Locally, like-minded allies are pushing for a single-payer system in New York. The proposed New York Health Act stalled in the Republican-controlled State Senate this year.
For many, that situation is much more palatable than the national fight they’d been forced into: defending Obamacare once again.
“We have to rejoice that this Republican bill didn’t pass, but we’re not at all happy with the current situation either,” says Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists.
What comes next?
Navigating that tricky national situation has been Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator and the Senate’s minority leader who is leading the party’s political strategy. In that position he has largely attempted to avoid potential claims of blanket obstructionism that Democrats used to hound Obama-era Republicans, as well as remaining the anti-Trump rock that many of his constituents expect.
Though Schumer hasn’t endorsed the idea of single payer like his fellow New Yorker Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, he has stood resolute against all versions of the GOP plan. No Senate Democrats crossed party lines.
But will Schumer maintain his hero status if he begins to entertain Republican proposals to tweak Obamacare? He has said that Congress should work together to lower premiums and improve the health care system, on the condition that Republicans abandon ideas like gutting Medicaid.
Will the newly energized health care advocates among his constituents accept such overtures, even if they are only the posturing of bipartisanship?
Crowds gathered around Schumer’s Park Slope home multiple times after Trump’s election to protest hints of cooperation. Elizabeth Zeldin, who helped organize those demonstrations, says that was already a “very different era.” The activists were concerned by the possibility, which seemed real at the time, that their representatives would compromise with parts of the Trump agenda. Because of that agenda’s diffuseness and often sharp radicalness, Democrats didn’t have to.
But if they did, the debate could be more difficult.