In the last 24 hours, the Senate Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare was shelved and a fallback effort to simply repeal the legislation appeared to have failed as well, with leadership unable to coral 50 votes.
On its face, the series of developments seemed like a remarkable victory for a progressive advocacy community that spent the entirety of this year organizing protests, sit-ins and digital campaigns to oppose the plan to upend the Affordable Care Act.
But while liberal groups enjoyed a brief moment of jubilation on Tuesday, they insisted that their backs remained raised. Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the worry goes, what is dead may never die.
“Republican attacks on health care are like a hydra. You cut off one head, two more spring back,” Ben Wikler, the Washington D.C. director for MoveOn, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview.
“I woke up the day after the election thinking that the ACA was already dead,” he added. And the fact that it’s still around is “as much of a surprise as Donald Trump’s election was… And a much better one.”
MoveOn worked tirelessly for the last few months to prioritize the health care debate both for the news media and for lawmakers on the fence. They often worried that the chaos in the White House would overshadow the issue, giving Republicans a window to shepherd through a deeply unpopular bill.
But this summer, according to Wikler, there was a sea change in terms of how well their message resonated. Images of disabled activists being arrested in the halls of the Senate and national sit-ins in local GOP offices personalized the fight and left Republican senators in a difficult spot. When GOP lawmakers began to air concerns with the bill, the group had its opening. When McConnell pulled it, they had a victory -- just not one that they are embracing with self-congratulatory backslapping.
“I think we stay on relatively high alert about this,” Joe Dinkin, communications director for the Working Families Party told The Daily Beast. “Remember, the House vote moved as soon as people kinda dropped their guard and thought it was over.”
Dinkin, of course, was referring to the span of time between when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) initially admitted defeat on his American Health Care Act and its subsequent narrow passage less than two months later. Activists conceded that they were caught flat-footed when Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) swooped in with an amendment to the American Health Care Act, that ultimately helped secure the votes for passage.
They worry now about suffering from similar complacency.
“At the end of the day, [repeal of ACA] has become a part of the Republican identity,” Angel Padilla, policy director for the Indivisible Team, a group formed by former congressional staffers in resistance to the Trump agenda, told The Daily Beast. “It’s something that they’ve already invested 6 months into this Congress to doing. When you have McConnell leading the Senate, that’s always going to be on the table.”
To ensure that Obamacare repeal and replace doesn’t come roaring back to life, advocacy organizations are going forward with the same lobbying functions that they had planned before the bill was pronounced dead. On Tuesday, Indivisible is hosting #KilltheBill state office events throughout the country hoping to keep pressure on Senators. And on Wednesday, some 500 constituents plan to occupy all 52 GOP Senate offices on Capitol Hill and risk arrest in the process, even with all indications that repeal and replace are now dead.
“The relentless wave of demonstrations, protests, sit-ins, visits from children whose lives are in danger, has made the human cost of the Republican health care bill impossible to ignore at a crucial moment in the debate,” Wikler said describing the moment.
Even as they continue pressing the Senate to not re-visit repeal some political organizations have are starting to look forward. In the ashes of McConnell’s failure to overturn Obamacare, liberals are attempting to lay the predicate for building on top of the law, specifically by encouraging Democrats up in 2018 to embrace an expansion of Medicare.
“We're glad the Senate is no longer considering taking health care away from millions of people but for us this is only part of the fight,” said Diane May, communications director for Our Revolution, the political organization spun out of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “We're continuing to work to build support for the only real solution to our country's health care crisis: a Medicare for All system that will cover everyone.”