Obamacare advocates planned to protest outside Rep. Peter King’s Massapequa Park office Wednesday on the eve of a key vote to President Donald Trump and House Republicans’ sweeping health care overhaul.
Residents of the congressman’s district, which spans four Long Island towns, said the rally was intended to convince Rep. King (R-Seaford) to oppose the legislation, billed as a repeal and replacement of former President Obama’s legacy health care law that gave coverage to millions of Americans who never had it before.
A grassroots organization called New York’s 2nd District Democrats, which emerged out of Trump’s election victory, has been tracking King’s remarks on key issues. In a Facebook event post, the group said the congressman’s office had indicated that he was leaning to vote “No,” which conflicts with recent reports that the veteran Long Island Republican was considering supporting the House bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), slated to come up for a floor vote Thursday.
Asked on Wednesday how King intends to vote, his spokesman said King is still looking at the legislation and has not come to a decision, adding that there were many moving parts—a reference to last-minute amendments mostly aimed at Medicaid coverage intended to appeal to certain GOP House members who had been waffling.
A report in CNN Wednesday suggested that King was possibly swayed to vote “Yes.” The same report said King was singled out by Trump, who referred to King’s congressional district as “conservative.” Registered Democrats actually hold a slim majority over registered Republicans in King’s district. King told CNN that he simply stared at Trump when the president said, “’You’re going to be with me, right?’”
In an interview with the Press last week, King said he had issues with the bill, specifically about the number of people who “are going to fall through the cracks and how big a fiscal impact it will have on New York.”
“I am certainly not convinced to vote for it,” he told the Press. “It’s going to cost New York billions of dollars, mainly because of the cuts in Medicaid as we go forward.”
Organizers of Wednesday’s demonstration ribbed King for his apparent “shout out” from Trump.
“If Pete King is going to make decisions that affect the lives of his constituents based on how often his buddy Trump points and smiles at him, we need to remind him who he works for!” they said on Facebook.
“Donald Trump’s campaign promise was to replace the Affordable Care Act with ‘something terrific,’” elaborated Liuba Grechen Shirley, founder of New York’s 2nd District Democrats, to the Press. “Denying millions of U.S. Citizens health care is not ‘terrific’ by any measure, and the last-minute tactics by the House Republicans are Washington politics at its worst.”
To garner support from two upstate Republican Congressmen, an amendment was added that would eliminate county funding of Medicaid in New York State exclusively. Currently, half of Medicaid expenses is paid for by the federal government and the rest by the state and county governments, whose contribution is currently capped at 13 percent. Although 16 states split Medicaid costs with their counties, this amendment only applies here.
“The New York State amendment injects partisan politics directly into the health care bill, using New York State taxpayers’ access to healthcare in a game of chicken with the State government,” Shirley added. “So much for ‘draining the swamp.'”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted the amendment as potentially “devastating” to New York and Long Island’s health care industry, because it only shifts the burden while curtailing the federal Medicaid component over time, forcing the state to come up with billions of dollars by 2020. Cuomo also noted that the new provision could cause nursing homes and hospitals on LI to shutter.
New York’s 2nd District Democrats joined others in a mass demonstration outside King’s Massapequa Park office in February to protest Trump’s controversial immigration policies.
Medicaid has become a big sticking point for many House Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan needs 216 votes to get it through the chamber so it can reach the U.S. Senate. As of Wednesday, it was still unclear whether Republicans would reach that threshold, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
Leadership has acquiesced to some hard-leaning conservatives by instituting various changes to the bill, including one that would allow governors to require residents to work in order to receive Medicaid coverage.
As many as 2.7 million New Yorkers could lose health insurance under the Republicans’ repeal bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office. On Long Island, the number of people in danger of losing health insurance is estimated at 133,324 in Nassau and 152,631 in Suffolk.
According to Cuomo’s office, three hospitals in King’s district—Good Samaritan, Southside, and St. Joseph—would lose a combined $14.6 million in funding as a result of the amendment.
“I urge members of the community to call their member of Congress and demand that they vote ‘no’ on this unconscionable piece of legislation,” Cuomo said.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) exuberantly cheered the amendment in a statement, calling it “the single greatest act of fiscal relief ever provided to the County of Suffolk and its taxpayers.” State government, he added, “absolutely can and should” find a way to make it work. The proposition was reportedly the idea of Rep. Chris Collins, a Buffalo area Congressman, who was joined by Rep. John Faso, (R-Hudson Valley).
An outraged Cuomo has argued that Albany could not make up the $2.3 billion difference.
The last-minute push to placate New York’s somewhat more moderate Republicans comes as support for the long-promised “Repeal and Replace” bill is slipping nationwide.
A Politico/Morning Consult Poll released Wednesday found that 41 percent of respondents support the measure, down from 46 percent last week. A separate poll found that 57 percent of those surveyed said they prefer Obamacare over the Trump alternative.
Since its passage in 2010, Republicans have been bullish about keeping their promise to their base to repeal Obamacare. But now that they have control of both Congress and the White House, carrying it out has proved difficult, especially once many of their constituents started gaining coverage under the law and began to realize what they stand to lose.
In a last-ditch effort to move the bill forward, Trump himself met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning with the hopes of changing some minds.
His message: Vote “Yes” or pay the price at the voting booth.
Now, we wait.