As the Senate prepares to vote this week on its Republican leaders’ quest to demolish the Affordable Care Act, a former GOP senator from a more bipartisan time is pleading with his successors to resist “bullying” to support a bill they do not yet understand.
Former Minnesota senator David Durenberger, a centrist who worked on health-care policies during his nearly two decades in the Senate and ever since, said in an op-ed published Monday that, even for Republicans who have promised for years to repeal the ACA, “voting on this hodgepodge of mysterious bills is not the way.”
His exhortation comes as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans a first vote as early as Tuesday on the GOP’s quest to rewrite federal health-care law along more conservative lines. The action is to start with a procedural vote on whether to begin the debate. As recently as Sunday, party leaders in the chamber were indicating that they were unsure such a usually routine motion could pass.
If it does, McConnell has said that a bill narrowly approved by the House this spring would be the starting point for debate, with lawmakers free to swap in various other versions of anti-ACA legislation that Senate Republicans have been contemplating. One version would simply undo central parts of the ACA, such as its insurance subsidies and requirement that most Americans carry coverage. Another measure, considered in several iterations in recent weeks, would go further by replacing parts of the 2010 law, including reworking the subsidies and transforming the funding of Medicaid.
“We are still on track … to have a vote early this week,” McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart, said Sunday. “The Senate will consider all types of proposals, Republican and Democrat.”
In his op-ed, published in USA Today, Durenberger excoriates the current crop of Senate Republicans for considering legislation that “will radically change how people get coverage and who can afford their care” without the chamber’s normal deliberative process.
“You ask questions. You hold hearings. You understand what it would mean to your constituents. You listen to those who know the system. And when it doesn’t add up, you vote against it,” he wrote. In this case, he noted, senators are being asked to vote on whether to begin debate without knowing what will be in the bill, having up-to-date information from congressional budget analysts or understanding the impact of Medicaid cuts on state budgets.
“Never in all my years did I experience the level of bullying we see today,” added Durenberger, who left office in 1995 and held a variety of prominent health-policy roles after that.
His scolding reflects the extent to which the Senate GOP has moved to the right in the past two decades. During the failed effort in the early 1990s by President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton to redesign the health-care system, Durenberger was part of a centrist group of Republicans and Democrats who tried to find a middle road. A decade ago, before the Affordable Care Act was even on the horizon, he convened bipartisan veterans of the Clinton-era struggles to reflect on what they had learned.
Last year, he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.