GOP ObamaCare bill energizes town hall groups

GOP ObamaCare bill energizes town hall groups
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Progressive groups gearing up for another recess of combative town halls for Republican lawmakers say they’re getting new energy from the newly released House GOP ObamaCare replacement plan.

Ahead of the April recess, groups like MoveOn.org and Indivisible are already protesting the legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“The reality of the healthcare repeal bill will supercharge the resistance,” Ben Wikler, MoveOn’s Washington director, said in an interview. “This is really going to be a full court press.”

“We’re starting to gear up to keep the members of Congress’ phones ringing off the hook continuously until they commit or follow through on their commitment to vote against this bill.”

When lawmakers were home for the holiday recess in late February, town halls in Republican members’ states and districts were swamped with rowdy protesters who were particularly concerned about changes to ObamaCare. 

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Numerous GOP senators and House members faced tough questioning about the fate of the existing healthcare law and the potential for losing coverage. Making matters worse for lawmakers, videos of their exchanges with desperate constituents regularly went viral.

Still, the chaos surrounding town halls settled down once lawmakers returned to Washington after the recess.

That is likely to change as these progressive groups kick it into high gear over the repeal bill in a slew of town halls planned for the upcoming recess, which begins on April 8.

The GOP’s proposal scraps subsidies, taxes and the mandates requiring the purchase of health insurance. It also sunsets Medicaid expansion in 2020 and defunds Planned Parenthood.

Instead of the subsidies, refundable tax credits would be given out to help pay for insurance. The mandate has been replaced by a 30 percent surcharge for new enrollees who go without coverage for two months or more.

MoveOn said activists and members have already flooded members’ offices nationwide amid the unveiling of the House GOP's bill and plans to keep up the pressure on lawmakers over at least the next five weeks.

The group touts that 100,000 people participated in “Resistance Recess,” showing up at lawmakers’ town halls and other public appearances between Feb. 18 and 26 and has plans to do similar organizing over the April recess.

In the meantime, MoveOn will hold “waves of action” at local offices across the country over the next five Tuesdays. The events are aimed at holding members of Congress accountable over the ObamaCare replacement bill. MoveOn has partnered with Working Families Party for #ResistTrumpTuesdays and the theme of the March 14 one is “GOP: Don’t Take Away Our Health Care.”

“We expect a firestorm of voices from people whose lives could be hurt or even destroyed by a bill that puts health insurance out of reach for millions of people who currently have coverage,” Wikler said.

Indivisible, a group formed after President Trump’s win that already has about 5,800 local groups nationwide, will also be active in the efforts. The group aims to delay the repeal bill for as long as possible.

“We’ll keep the heat on as we see further committee action, but we’re really focusing on the upcoming two week recess that starts April 8,” said Sarah Dohl, a board member of the Indivisible Project who co-authored the group’s guide to “resisting the Trump agenda.”

Dohl applauded Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonOnly Congress can enable drone technology to reach its full potential Senate Dem offers patent reform bill Sasse: Someone subscribed me to Nickleback emails as a prank MORE (R-Ark.), who has criticized the House GOP for rapidly advancing the bill without a score from the Congressional Budget Office. Dohl argues that the local Indivisible group in Arkansas was instrumental in mounting pressure on Cotton over the issue and sees his decision as a “win.”

Cotton faced a rowdy crowd at his town hall back in February where he was pressed on ObamaCare repeal as well as other hot button issues.

“We want these groups on the ground to continue to put pressure on their members and to make them very nervous about supporting a repeal like this,” Dohl said.

Republicans have criticized the raucous town halls, frequently accusing constituents at the meetings of being paid protesters. Many members have started avoiding town halls, opting for “virtual town halls” or smaller, private events.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), told The Hill last month that the protests were pushed by liberal groups to “manufacture chaos.”

Dohl called the criticism “a very convenient GOP talking point” and pushed back on the claims of paid protesters. She said many people at the town halls are participating in politics for the first time. 

Even before the April recess starts, House members already have a slate of town halls and events scheduled as well as some senators.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is holding two town halls on March 17, according to the Des Moines Register. The Iowa Republican has yet to publicly comment on the legislation, and an Ernst representative told The Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa that she is “currently reviewing the bill.”

MoveOn is planning to have a presence at Ernst’s Cedar Rapids town hall. 

And across the country, a pro-ObamaCare rally is scheduled outside of a private event that Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerTrump making calls to senators on healthcare bill Trump called Cruz to press him on ObamaCare repeal bill: report Biden rips Senate GOP healthcare bill, says it 'isn't about healthcare' MORE (R-Nev.) is attending in his home state, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

Heller will attend a small event at a local senior living community, inspiring Sun City Anthem Democrats Club to plan a rally outside the event. The club is encouraging members to either get there early for a seat at the event or participate in the rally, according to the Sun.

Heller, the most vulnerable GOP senator up for reelection in 2018, hasn’t commented on the bill despite being put on the spot from both sides of the aisle. Democrats have called on him to break his silence and denounce the bill, while a GOP group aligned with Senate leadership has urged him to support ObamaCare repeal.

He also took some heat for not signing onto a letter with four GOP senators who said they won’t support any legislation that cuts the Medicaid expansion, which the current House GOP bill rolls back in 2020. Nevada is one of 32 states including Washington, D.C. that has expanded the program. 

With nearly two local Indivisible groups located in every congressional district, Dohl said she expects members to be present at all of these upcoming events.

“From what we’ve seen is if there’s an event, Indivisible will be there,” Dohl said.