As I write this, I’m hearing the news that the Congressional Budget Office has issued a preliminary analysis saying the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act has found that millions would be left without insurance if the bill passes. I’m also hearing that Senator Collins of Maine has come out in opposition. The word is that this is the death knell for the bill, but like I said in my last post, the Obamacare repeal effort is like Dracula: it just keeps rising from the dead. So keep writing to your senators (if you have them, that is).
Yes, I was at the Dirksen Senate Office Building today. I was wearing the orange and white colors of the Arc of the United States, but there were many, many other disability groups from around the country, there to protest the proposed cuts to Medicaid. Unfortunately, few if any got into the hearing room. As Senator Wyden of Oregon noted, the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee had chosen to hold the hearing in one of the smallest available hearing rooms, dismissing a request by Democrats to choose a larger room so more American citizens could attend. As it was, the corridor outside the tiny hearing room was lined with folks in wheelchairs who were prevented from entering due to inadequate space. Around 2:00, when the hearing was supposed to begin, a chant went up, “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty” which resonated down the halls of the Senate office building. Since I was much further back in line, I left at that point for the overflow room, where I heard the same chants over the closed-circuit TV as Senator Hatch tried to start the hearing.
I didn’t know until much later that some protesters had been dragged from the hearing room, but when I finally left the building around 4:30 the sidewalks just outside the Hart and Senate office buildings were lined with Americans in wheelchairs, including our own Heidi Case, formerly with Project Action! I thought the view of all those folks locked out of a hearing in which issues so central to their lives were being decided was a powerful and depressing symbol of what was going on in the Senate today. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and not our American democracy’s finest hour. (But of course, in D.C. we’re locked out of the Senate every day, so that’s kind of familiar territory.)
I was worried as I watched the hearing that the event was so obviously structured to give senators Graham and Cassidy a soapbox to make whatever claims they wanted about their bill – a bill that has been changing day by day and that its sponsors have wanted to vote on quickly, without time for sound analysis. If enough Republican senators have now stepped up to kill it, then bravo. Maybe then there can be a serious bipartisan effort to make improvements to Obamacare without denying millions of Americans, in D.C. and elsewhere, with and without disabilities, the health care and other supports they need.