Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to pull the American Health Care Act (dubbed ‘Ryancare’ or ‘Trumpcare’) from consideration by the House of Representatives so it would not be defeated in a floor vote is the first legislative victory for the political revolution spearheaded by Bernie Sanders.
Shortly after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election, Democratic Senate minority leader Chuck Shumer put Sanders in charge of outreach for the party (even though he remains an independent). Using that tribune, Sanders bent over backwards to mobilize ‘yooj’ numbers of people and organizations all across the country to stand up against the Republican attempt to throw over 20 million people off of health care by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA, or Obamacare) taxes on the super-rich that pay for health insurance subsidies for poor and working people.
The first series of rallies Sanders and the Democratic Party put together all over the country to defend the ACA were held on January 15 as part of his “Our First Stand: Save Health Care” initiative. Since then, both Republicans and Democrats have been dogged at town halls all over the country by voters demanding resistance to the Trump administration’s extremist agenda. Congressional phone lines were flooded with angry calls. The liberal group MoveOn organized 40,000 calls and one Congressman from Illinois reported 1,959 constituent phone calls in opposition to the repeal of ACA and only 30 in support.
As Sanders put it:
“’What we’re starting to do, for the first time in the modern history of the Democratic Party, is active grass-roots organizing,’ Sanders said in a January interview. ‘We’re working with unions, we’re working with senior groups, and we’re working with health-care groups. We’re trying to rally the American people so we can do what they want. And that is not the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.’”
All of this bottom-up district-by-district organizing and struggle made the politics of destroying the ACA impossible as its popularity surged while the Republican plan’s popularity tanked at 17%. So even though the Democratic Party has only 193 seats in the House compared to the 237 seats held by Republicans, Ryan fell short of the 218 votes he needed because 24 moderate/centrist Republicans refused to commit political suicide by backing the bill. 24 members of the extreme right-wing Freedom Caucus and the billionaire Koch brothers were also against the bill but last-minute legislative changes swayed some of these extremists to flip their votes from ‘nay’ to ‘yea’. However, Republicans still fell short on the vote count because the amendments made to appease Republican Party extremists rendered the bill even more unpalatable to moderate/centrists. As the Washington Post reported:
“House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) announced midday that the bill was ‘unacceptable’ and that changes made late Thursday to placate conservatives ‘raise serious coverage and cost issues.’ He was joined by rank-and-file members such as Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), a low-key appropriator, and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), a longtime Ryan ally who represents a competitive Northern Virginia congressional district.”
The contradictions within the Republican Party were heightened by Donald Trump’s buffoonery. Trump threatened to ‘go after’ a Freedom Caucus member who supported the bill and demanded for weeks that the legislation affecting one-sixth of the U.S. economy be rushed through the House for a floor vote. On the eve of the floor vote he wanted, Trump asked Ryan to pull the bill from consideration to avoid a catastrophic and humiliating defeat. His claim to be “a great deal-maker” turns out to be just another fraud just like Trump University, Trump Steaks, Trump’s casinos, and Trump’s Florida real estate empire.
Saving health care for tens of millions of people is a major victory for progressives but we cannot afford to be complacent. Trump and Ryan are likely to be even hungrier for legislative victories now and the next major battles will likely be over tax reform and forcing taxpayers to pay for Trump’s wall because Mexico won’t.
The struggle continues.