Burlington County Times

Opponents Of GOP Health Care Bill Vow To Keep Fighting After House Vote Scuttled

Burlington County Times — March 23, 2017

By David Levinsky, staff writer

With the fate of the Republican's Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement legislation in apparent limbo, opponents of the plan vowed to continue pressing U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur and other members of New Jersey's congressional delegation to oppose the health care overhaul.

The U.S. House was scheduled to vote on the controversial legislation on Thursday — the seventh anniversary of the day President Barack Obama signed his administration's signature health care bill — but Republican leaders wound up postponing it due to an apparent lack of support.

The White House insisted the House vote would still happen, as President Donald Trump continued to meet with lawmakers to discuss potential changes.

Opponents cheered the postponement, but warned that they were still worried about Trump and the GOP's next move.

"There was no vote tonight, but they will still be working on this, for sure," said Maura Collinsgru, health care program coordinator for New Jersey Citizen Action, a progressive advocacy group that has helped organize grass-roots opposition.

"The concern is that they're delaying this to make changes to get more (conservatives) on board. What that will look like is very concerning," Collinsgru said, adding that opponents planned to continue rallying to fight any repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Several dozen people demonstrated outside the Statehouse in Trenton on Thursday morning, chanting slogans and vowing to keep pressuring their GOP lawmakers.

"Whatever it takes, we are not letting these (SOBs) take our health care!" said Hetty Rosenstein, director of the New Jersey Communications Workers of America, during the rally.

"Their plan means less coverage, higher costs for consumers, a cap, and total restructuring of our Medicaid program. And now, the icing on the cake to try to get the votes they need, they are eliminating essential health benefits for all," Collinsgru said.

"This is not a plan we can allow to pass," she said.

The Republican legislation would do away with most of the ACA's taxes and penalties, including those against people who don't buy coverage, while maintaining some of its popular components, such as a prohibition against insurers refusing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and the requirement that parents be allowed to keep adult children on their policies until they turn 26.

It would cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the Obama statute had expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay their medical bills, although generally skimpier than what Obama's statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts that the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.

The measure would also block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, another stumbling block for GOP moderates.

In a danger sign for Republicans, a Quinnipiac University poll found that people disapprove of the GOP legislation by 56 percent to 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided. Trump's handling of health care was viewed unfavorably by 6 of 10.

The survey was conducted March 16-21 with a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Also, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a new report on the legislation reflecting changes made this week to try to appease both moderate and conservative Republicans.

The office found that the new version would result in $150 billion in savings over the next decade. That's $186 billion less than the original bill. The deficit reduction figures dropped mostly because the updated measure has additional tax breaks and makes Medicaid benefits more generous for some older and disabled people.

The office says the updated legislation would still result in 14 million more uninsured people next year and 24 million more in a decade.

The report represented more bad news for Trump and Republican leaders, who scuttled Thursday's vote after Trump emerged from an afternoon meeting with the conservative Freedom Caucus without a deal to appease the group, many of whom believe the legislation is too close to the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."

The bill could still come to a vote in coming days, but canceling Thursday's vote amounted to a significant political setback for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan in the first major legislative test of the new presidency.

Three of New Jersey's five Republican members — Reps. Frank LoBiondo, of the 2nd District; Chris Smith, of the 4th District; and Leonard Lance, of the 7th District — have indicated that they planned to vote "no" if the bill is brought to the floor.

Only Reps. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, and Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11th of Harding, have said they planned to support the legislation, which would undo most of the ACA.

All seven of New Jersey's Democratic members have promised not to support the bill.

Much of the rhetoric at the Trenton rally was directed at MacArthur. The second-term congressman was one of only nine Republicans to vote against a House resolution earlier this year that was designed to ease passage of repeal legislation, and he is co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, made up of centrist Republican members whose votes, along with the Freedom Caucus, could likely decide the legislation's fate.

MacArthur said Tuesday that he decided to support the measure after Trump and Republican leaders agreed to changes that could add about $145 billion in federal aid for older Americans to obtain health coverage and for seniors and disabled residents enrolled in Medicaid.

MacArthur also demanded assurances that the proposed curbs on the growth of Medicaid would not take effect until 2020.

"Congressman MacArthur appears to have ignored the needs of his Main Street constituents in favor of partisan politics," said Jim Parker, owner of the Riverview Studios in Bordentown City and a member of the Main Street Alliance, a small-business group that supports the Affordable Care Act.

"I hope he's paying attention today because small business is paying attention to him," Parker said.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-32nd of Secaucus, also spoke at the rally. He called the GOP legislation a "travesty" because of the millions who might lose their health coverage and the financial burden it would place on states like New Jersey, which expanded its Medicaid program.

"This is about the quality of life of all residents of New Jersey," Prieto said. "It is a human right to have affordable care."

Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st of Camden, who spoke to activists at an afternoon town hall in Collingswood via teleconference, said the delay was welcome news but the fight continues.

"Republicans don't have the votes today to raise our costs, cut coverage, and impose their 'age tax' on seniors. But they might tomorrow, so I will continue to speak out against this bill," he said.

Collinsgru said that she was encouraged by the opposition from so many moderate Republicans and that she was still hopeful MacArthur might reverse his position.

"There is a unanimous opinion among stakeholders — the AARP, small businesses, hospitals, health care workers — all of them are vehemently opposed. Tom MacArthur has no allies," she said.

This story contains information from The Associated Press.

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