HARTFORD, CT — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he didn’t come back to Hartford Friday to celebrate following the defeat of the so-called “skinny repeal” bill.
Instead, he said what he felt following Friday’s early morning vote was a sense of relief.
Three Republican Senators and 48 Democratic Senators defeated a bill that would have scaled back former President Barack Obama’s signature health bill. But the fight is far from over.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Blumenthal said.
In the short term there has to be an effort to stabilize the individual insurance market, which is no easy task. There’s no disputing that insurance premiums are increasing and fewer insurance companies are participating.
But Blumenthal said Republicans and Democrats have to work together to fix those big policy issues. He said there were gaggles of Republican and Democratic Senators on the floor of the U.S. Senate Friday morning talking about how to make those fixes.
However, that sense of bipartisanship may not last long and it doesn’t extend to the executive branch. There’s nothing to indicate President Donald Trump is slowing his “vendetta against the Affordable Care Act,” Blumenthal said.
Following Friday’s vote Blumenthal said he hopes more Republicans will stand up to Trump and tell him that he cannot continue this because tearing down the exchanges will cost “people’s lives.” He said the president needs to bolster and support the insurance exchanges and increase the cost sharing subsidies or create a reinsurance fund as a backstop for insurance companies.
But Trump signed an executive order Jan. 20 telling the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the individual mandate, which requires people to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
The IRS said in February that barring a legislative change, it will continue enforcing the Affordable Care Act.
Blumenthal said legislators can now start to make a case to Trump: “You broke it. You own it.”
If Trump continues “breaking these exchanges. He owns the death and disease that will result,” Blumenthal added.
Blumenthal said Congress can take the lead on fixing the healthcare system starting with proposals to lower pharmaceutical prices. It’s a place where they can find common ground with Trump.
As for what he witnessed Friday morning, “there is no underestimating the profiles in courage,” Blumenthal said.
He said the moment each of the three Republican Senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and John McCain of Arizona, voted was “suspenseful,” but none more so than McCain’s. He said when McCain’s name was called the first time he did not vote. When he came back onto the floor he came in “seemingly casually” and gave it a “thumbs down.” Blumenthal said there was a “gasp of emotion” on both sides.
He said he wants to give credit to all three Republicans. He said McCain received most of the attention Friday morning, but Murkowski and Collins stood strong for weeks and during the critical days before the vote.
In the end, “What really defeated this bill was the voices and faces of people” who told their healthcare stories at public forums and rallies, Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal took many of the stories he heard in Connecticut back to the Senate floor where he retold them over the past few days of debate on three bills that would have changed or repealed the Affordable Care Act.