We can win the fight to stop Senate Republicans from passing their version of a healthcare bill with more pushback from activists. That was the message AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered to more than 23,000 leaders and members who participated in a June 19 telephone town hall discussion on healthcare, which was livestreamed on Facebook. Weingarten was joined by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Indivisible Project Executive Director Ezra Levin, who shared their insights and advice.
Casey said that Republicans are meeting in secret and hard at work "cooking up a bad bill." He encouraged listeners "to keep the pressure on the Senate, especially on those who could be wavering." Senate Republicans are moving quickly to meet a self-imposed June 30 deadline to vote on the bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act; but there is still time to make a difference, the speakers stressed.
"By lending your voice, you're giving added power and significance to any argument that we make," said Casey, noting that he is grateful to AFT activists leaders who are willing to do this on behalf of people who sometimes don't have a voice.
AFT Vice President Joshua Pechthalt, who is president of the California Federation of Teachers, was among the callers who shared their concerns about the bill now being negotiated in the Senate, especially when it comes to coverage for pre-existing conditions. "For people with pre-existing conditions, this is very bad news," Pechthalt said, "and we have to fight like hell to make sure this doesn't become the healthcare plan for the American people."
Senate Republicans are trying to get this bill through in secret, said Levin, "because [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell knows if people see it, they will oppose it," Democrats are standing up to fight, Levin added, pointing out that the Democrats have committed to withholding consent and to filibuster by amendment. "This is do-or-die time," he warned. "We win in the Senate, or it will be very tough to defeat this bill going forward."
There are two things that AFT members can tell Republican senators, Levin said. "Ask them to hold a hearing," and "don't vote for anything that takes away my healthcare."
Weingarten urged listeners to take three simple actions: Write to your senators. Call your senators. Find a resistance event to attend.
A woman from Florida called in to share her concern about her 23-year-old son who has pre-existing conditions. "How do you look at your kid and not know how you're going to keep him insured, no matter what you pay for his insurance coverage?"
Stories like this are why we are fighting, said Weingarten. "It's why we have joined with Indivisible and other allies. We are pulling out all the stops to do this, but we can't do it alone," she said. "In the next few days, the Senate may get rid of Obamacare and any requirement to have healthcare for everyone, despite the unpopularity of the healthcare bill or that it throws millions off of healthcare, hurts those with pre-existing conditions, hurts older people and cuts taxes for the wealthy. We need to be all in to fight back."