Close to the 52nd birthday of Medicare and Medicaid, in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, July 28, something astounding happened. After days, weeks, and months of the Trump administration and Republican Congressional leadership using every trick in the book to jam through a deeply unpopular health care proposal, their last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) died on the floor of the Senate.
With Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, the defeat of the party’s first – and arguably most important – major legislative priority is no small feat. And for anyone in the United States who relies on access to quality, affordable health care, it’s a moment to celebrate. Most importantly, it is a moment to stop and salute the courage of those who made it possible.
Real people told their stories and put a human focus on a debate that showed the popularity of Obamacare and torpedoed voter support for every twisted version of the GOP’s effort to take health care away from millions.
The most courageous acts of all were the calls, rallies, emails, Tweets and personal stories that people across the country shared as they urged Republicans to abandon their heartless, harmful bill. Seniors, people with disabilities, parents of children with pre-existing conditions and many others stepped forward and bravely shared their stories of medical crisis, chronic illness and lifelong struggles to access adequate health care. Americans showed up at their representatives’ offices – in their home districts and on Capitol Hill – to share their stories, and in some cases were forcibly removed or arrested for daring to speak truth to power.
Grassroots groups that organized multi-racial coalitions of working people made these efforts possible. In Nevada, for example, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) led community groups and organized labor to show how tens of thousands of guest room attendants, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks, and kitchen workers would be hurt if the GOP took away their access to doctors or needed medicine.
Americans showing visceral anger in town halls, on the phones and through vigils, even civil disobedience, kept GOP efforts in the spotlight even as Sen. McConnell worked every lever in his toolkit to keep the efforts secret and move legislation through procedural tricks in the dead of night.
Make no mistake – every Democrat stood united and key GOP Senators defected at several key points in the debate because organizing created a sea shift in the underlying politics of health care.
That includes Sen. John McCain, whose decisive vote against the so-called “skinny repeal” bill dealt the final blow to Republicans’ cruel and callous effort to strip health care coverage from millions of Americans. Facing his own medical crisis, Sen. McCain honored the legacy of his close friend, Sen. Ted Kennedy, for whom the passage of Affordable Care Act marked the fulfillment of a dream that spanned his decades-long career.
It includes two key women: Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who never wavered in their resolve against the various Republicans proposals – all of which would have gutted Medicaid and left millions of seniors, people with disabilities and families with childrens hanging in the balance. Sen. Murkowski refused to bow to open threats from the White House, instead responding with her own show of strength in delaying votes on the administration’s Interior Department nominees.
Sens. McCain, Collins and Murkowski recognized that their constituents’ lives were more important than political points. And lawmakers such as Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Rob Portman of Ohio – who bowed to pressure and sold out their constituents by voting to repeal the ACA – are accountable for their choice, today, tomorrow, and next November. We also saw courage from Congressional Democrats, who stood strong and unified in their opposition to efforts to roll back the progress we’ve made in giving more people access to health care. We saw courage in spades from Sen. Mazie Hirono, who stood on the Senate floor to deliver an emotional testimony about her own battle with Stage 4 cancer and call on her colleagues to show compassion for the millions of Americans that would be harmed by the GOP bill.
These lawmakers stood tall in opposition to a plan that would have made health care more expensive, lower quality, and in many cases, entirely out of reach for millions of Americans.
While today I am thankful to the senators who voted the right way last night, I honor the American people for standing up for each other and forcing our representatives to do the same. The resistance to the Trump agenda is stronger today than it has ever been, and you are the reason why.
Dorian Warren is the president of the Center for Community Change Action.