On Monday night, as a snowstorm bore down on Washington, D.C., Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) marched into the Capitol. In his hand he clenched a copy of the Congressional Budget Office’s newly released report finding that the GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would cause 24 million people to lose their health insurance over the next decade.
“It’s awful,” he said of the report. “President Trump says he wants as many people covered as under Obamacare, and in that Washington Post article he said health care should be affordable. So if there’s truly 24 million people [losing their coverage], of course it’s a concern.”
Cassidy, a former doctor, was more forthcoming than his Republican colleagues, most of whom rushed past the reporters gathered in the basement of the Capitol trying to gather their reactions to the highly anticipated CBO report.
“I am still reviewing the report,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters asking for his thoughts on the CBO’s findings. “I was literally just handed it.”
“Haven’t seen it,” Sen. John Bozeman (R-AR) told TPM as he waited for a trolley car back to his office.
“I’m still looking at it,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), dashing for the nearest elevator. “I just got off a flight. I haven’t had time to study it.”
“I just have the headlines, but not the context,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), declining to comment on the report. Though he had not yet read the CBO’s analysis, Lankford did defend Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s assertion that it is not “believable.” Lankford, like many of his Republican colleagues and many in the Trump administration, inaccurately cited the CBO’s past reports on Obamacare to cast doubt on the office’s credibility.
“The White House is only saying what everyone knew already,” he said. “The initial CBO estimates, if you go back, ended up being inflated by 10 million or more. That’s not an accusation, that’s a fact.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joined in on the bashing of the CBO, saying they were “wildly wrong on the initial estimates of Obamacare.” But McCain admitted to reporters that he has some concerns, especially because Arizona is one of the states that took federal funding to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of people. Under the bill, hundreds of billions of dollars are cut from Medicaid over time.
“I’m very worried about what the House bill would do to Arizona,” he said.
Of the lawmakers who spoke to TPM, only Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) seemed unperturbed by the CBO report. “I think we’re off to a good beginning,” he said.
Alexander, who chairs the crucial Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, stressed the urgency of repealing the Affordable Care Act by pointing to his home state, where thousands of people on the individual market could become uninsured thanks to the decision of the insurance company Humana to quit participating in the exchanges.
“We have to succeed in what we’re doing,” Alexander said, “or we’re going to have 231,000 Tennesseans who have subsidies to buy insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchanges who have no insurance to buy. It’s like having bus tickets in a town with no buses.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tells reporters the GOP repeal bill will cause the death of thousands.
Senate Democrats were unsurprisingly much more forthcoming with comments about the CBO’s findings, telling reporters that they feel vindicated in their initial opposition to the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who often crosses the aisle to vote with Republicans on legislation, said there is “no way” he will support this bill.
Manchin said the bill attacks his state in three different ways: by reducing health insurance subsidies for older Americans, by rolling back and cutting funding for the Medicaid expansion, and by ending the requirement that insurance plans cover people struggling with drug addictions.
“I’ve got all three,” he said. “I’ve got an older population. I’ve got a poorer population. I’ve got an addicted population that I’ve got to get cleaned up. So I’m getting hit every which way. It’s unbelievable.”
Manchin, his voice almost breaking with emotion, said the legislation’s massive tax cuts for the wealthy add “insult to injury.”
“You’ve got to have a moral compass, and this is just not right,” he said. “You can’t do that and look at the elderly, the poor, and the people who are addicted and just kneecap them. You just can’t. How can you look at yourself after helping the people who need help the least and taking away from those who need it the most and depends on us the most?”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also stopped and spoke to reporters at length Monday night, calling the GOP bill “disgusting and immoral” and saying it “must be defeated.”
“To think that in the year 2017, Republicans want to throw 24 million people off their health insurance, raise premiums for older people and at the same time provide $285 billion in tax breaks for the top two percent,” he said gravely. “This bill should not see the light of day. If it passes, and people lose their health insurance, thousands of Americans will die.”