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After Senate repeal failure, Democrats urge bipartisanship on health care

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., speaks to NewsChannel8 from Capitol Hill on Sep. 27, 2017. (SBG)

In the wake of the latest failed Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, House Democrats said Wednesday they are eager to work on bipartisan solutions to repair the country’s health insurance system.

“We’re more than willing to work with our Republican counterparts to fix that which may need improving,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said.

The Senate bill under consideration, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), would replace much of the federal funding provided to states by the ACA, also referred to as Obamacare, with block grants. Critics argued many states would receive less money under their model, leading to losses of coverage or services.

“This last bill died an ignominious death and deservedly so,” Connolly said.

Procedural rules in the Senate would have required a vote by the end of this week in order to pass the bill with a simple majority, but GOP leaders announced Tuesday that they do not have the votes after Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) publicly stated they would not support it.

Graham indicated they will continue to pursue the legislation, hoping to draft a 2018 budget resolution that enables them to use the reconciliation process again to pass it with 51 votes after proceeding through committees under regular order.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, said Republicans and President Trump should learn from their repeated failures that the Democrats and the American people will not tolerate reforms that hurt patients.

“[Trump] didn’t have the people on his side, and we know he’s all about the numbers. In this case, his numbers just didn’t match up to his ego,” she said.

Democrats point to public opinion polls and statements by a number of Republicans favoring cooperation across the aisle on measures to fix problems with the ACA, but they see any effort that begins with repealing the law as a non-starter.

“We’ve got to move off this, ‘destroy healthcare for millions of people’ that has united almost every public health advocacy group and almost every group of healthcare experts against these Republican repeal efforts,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. “It has to be an inclusive process that involves the public and is not a last minute, ‘we don’t care what it costs or how many it hurts’ kind of approach.”

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., suggested Republicans take advice from one of their own.

“Sen. John McCain put it very succinctly over a month ago when he said we ought to go back to regular order, let the committees do their process, and fix the challenges with the ACA,” he said, referring to McCain’s speech on the Senate floor in late July urging his colleagues to adopt a bipartisan approach.

Several Democrats cited the efforts of Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray to craft a compromise in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which reportedly was making significant progress before leadership opted for a unilateral push for Graham-Cassidy instead.

“There are a lot of things that are bipartisan ideas that if we just sit down and get past the political posturing, I think we could do to make affordable America’s health care, which everyone cares deeply about because it’s our lives at the end of the day,” Costa said.

According to Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., there are many areas of common ground if Republicans have the political will to work with Democrats.

“I did an editorial not long ago talking about the things that both sides agree on: shoring up the insurance companies so that premiums won’t skyrocket, measures that would bring down the cost of drugs, selling across state lines if that’s possible,” she said.

House Republicans maintained that Obamacare is beyond repair.

“The challenges remain,” said Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich. “Obamacare is failing…. It’s something that needs to be addressed in the long term.”

He suggested a system more focused on consumer choice.

“I think it’s important that we have a patient-centered program where people get to choose the health care they need,” he said, “one that drives the cost of health insurance down, takes some of the costly aspects out of health care so people can afford it.”

Though he felt Graham-Cassidy was on the right track in returning power over health care spending to the states, Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said the secretive process Republicans used to write the bill undermined their efforts.

“What I’d like to see first of all is a real commitment to regular order, and that means you’ve got to have hearings, you have to hear from stakeholders, you’ve got to do that in public meetings,” he said. “That creates a stronger work product. It takes a lot of the mystery out of it.”

Despite the stumbles in the Senate, House Republicans are still hopeful for eventual success in unraveling the ACA.

“I don’t think the issue is over with,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash. “I think we’ll have more opportunities in the future.”

“We met with Mike Pence about the tax issue a while ago, but he is still very confident that President Trump will find a way to get health care done in the next year,” said Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis.

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