On Wednesday, conservative activists braved the brutal wind chills in Washington D.C. to remind Republican lawmakers of their promises to repeal and replace Obamacare. The event hosted by FreedomWorks, began with a series of speakers, including Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), at Upper Senate Park.
“Keep your promise,” barked a man in the crowd.
“Full repeal,” yelled another attendee.
“Scrap the bill, ditch Ryan,” howled another man.
As wind and snow flurries chilled these die-hard activists to the bone, Sen. Paul took to the podium, saying that the House leadership was “weak-kneed.”
“We want to be free of Obamacare,” he said. Speaking of his Republican colleagues, Paul said, “They need to discover that they don’t have your votes,” urging FreedomWorks activists to get out there and keep up the pressure. Why?
“We want to be free of Obamacare,” Paul said. “We’re not campaigning for Obamacare lite,” he added, while noting that this isn’t an event to make sure the health insurance companies get a bailout as well.
“I’ll keep fighting, hang in there,” said the Kentucky senator as he made his exit.
Sirius XM Patriot’s Andrew Wilkow, who was broadcasting live from the park, introduced Tea Party Patriots’ Jenny Beth Martin, who said that this is a fight for the forgotten man and woman. She also thanked the crowd for what they have done over the past eight years in trying to make D.C. listen to the people.
“Congress, keep your promises,” she said.
Dr. Chad Mathis, a doctor in Birmingham, Alabama, said that it was time to drain the swamp and have patient-centered health care. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said that there is a whole lot to be said about the forgotten man, woman, and factory worker. He also reiterated the GOP promise to repeal Obamacare, not just part of it.
“Doing anything less than what we promised the American people should not be acceptable,” he said.
The congressman added that their voice matters—noting how the GOP establishment was now singing a different tune on adding amendments to the bill. Meadows said that in the end, the conservative movement would be judged on this health care fight, not a Congressional Budget Office score. He also said it doesn’t matter if what we do sends us—conservatives in Congress—home. It’s the right thing to do.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that their job isn’t hard; it’s doing what they promised the voters over the past seven years. Sen. Cruz said, “we have a mandate for change” after the 2016 elections, adding that the GOP is out of excuses, the time for talk is over, and now is the time for action. He warned if the Republican Party screws this up—and he admitted that there is a possibility—the GOP would be a laughingstock. The conservative firebrand said we have to deliver on our promises and that test will be manifested in curbing skyrocketing premiums.
In between speakers, Wilkow said, “this is the last chance to stop Establishment care.”
“If you don’t think we’re on our way to single payer if the AHCA passes, you’re nuts,” he said.
One of the main points of contention was the current bill keeping the Medicaid expansion intact.
“Our activists are incensed at the betrayal of Paul Ryan and House Republican leadership. Instead of following through on years and years of campaign promises and repealing Obamacare outright, they want to create a new entitlement program and a backdoor individual mandate,” said FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon in a statement. “Even the savings that Ryan and Republican leaders are boasting about are suspect because Medicaid expansion, which supposedly ends at the beginning of 2020, will likely become the new Medicare ‘doc fix.’”
Once the speakers were done, activists walked to the nearby Russell Senate Building, where they stood for well over an hour in the freezing cold as they waited to get through security. Townhall was embedded with a group from North and South Carolina.
One woman, Melissa Gainey of Wilmington, North Carolina said that she felt Sen. Cruz was right to call this bill Obamacare lite.
“He stands by what he says,” she said. She felt the current bill is “not enough,” and that it would be just be easier for a full repeal. She also hopes that Congress can work on allowing companies to sell insurance across state lines and make health care more affordable.
Kharin Gibson of Southport, North Carolina, who works for the magazine Cape Fear Living, just came from an attempted meeting with Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), where she said, “we were ushered out quickly.”
“He did not make an appearance,” she said. “He should be here.”
As we walked the halls of Russell, Gibson added that one person had tried to meet with Burr nine times, but he’s never been in the office. She said she was a “little perturbed and disappointed.” From what they could gather from his staff, she told Townhall that there were no answers, a lot was up in the air, and that everyone left without a sense of real leadership.
A meeting with a staffer from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was also intense at times, with activists reiterating the GOP's commitment to repealing and replacing Obamacare, citing that health care is not a right in the Constitution.
They held a faux vote in the conference room across the hall from the senator’s office, where they all ‘voted aye’ for repeal and replace. Towards the end, the message from this group concerning gutting Obamacare was clear: stop trying, stand up, and just do it; that’s what we voted for. That’s what you told us.
Donna McKinney of Myrtle Beach said she felt “brushed off” by the Graham office. She seemed frustrated at the “I don’t know, we’ll try, we’re going to try” ethos that she hears from GOP lawmakers.
“I got nothing from this, other than an opportunity to yell, to vent my feelings and to let people know what’s at stake,” she said. Well, letting people vent, laying out what’s at stake, and acting upon it, gave the GOP the House, the Senate, and the presidency. It’s made the GOP the dominant political force in the country. And these activists will keep venting.
Leping Beck, the publisher for Cape Fear Living, described the whole Storm Congress event as “awesome.”
“It’s great. That’s what Democracy is all about,” she said. Speaking of those who were passionate about these issues, Beck said, “They were ignored. These people have been hurting and they’re hard working taxpayers.”
“You can’t ignore half the country,” she added.
These folks aren’t going away either. One FreedomWorks staffer said that due to the inclement weather, D.C. was hit with a snowstorm 24 hours prior; a West Virginia group’s bus was cancelled. Half of the members from that group drove to the capital on their own to make sure Congress kept their promise. That’s dedication. Come hell or high water, conservatives are going to be there reminding Republicans you promised to repeal Obamacare—not giving us a bill that’s Obamacare lite. A criticism that isn’t far-fetched:
What pieces of Obamacare stay:
- A lot, including almost all of the consumer protections and market reforms. Here's some of what's staying in place:
- Protections for pre-existing conditions. Insurers still won't be able to deny sick people coverage, and they won't be able to charge them more than healthy people.
- Children will be able to stay on their parents' plan until age 26.
- No lifetime or annual limits on insurance coverage.
- Private plans must cover a set of "essential health benefits." (Though they don't have to cover as much of a patient's total health care costs as under Obamacare.)
- There's a limit on out-of-pocket costs passed along to private plan enrollees.
What pieces of Obamacare will either go away or be changed
How health coverage is subsidized and paid for within that regulatory structure. The individual and employer mandates are repealed. The individual mandate is replaced with a continuous coverage provision allowing insurers to charge extra to people who didn't keep themselves insured. Medicaid expansion is eventually phased out, and the way the federal government funds the program is massively reformed. Obamacare's premium subsidies, which are tied to income and the cost of premiums on exchanges, are replaced with an age-adjusted refundable tax credit. Nearly all of Obamacare's industry taxes are repealed, along with taxes on high earners. The exception is the Cadillac tax on expensive employer plan benefits, which is delayed until 2025. The use of health savings accounts is expanded.