In the wake of House Republicans’ Friday withdrawal of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Connecticut’s political leaders offered drastically different takes on the outcome of the health care showdown.
Within the Republican Party, the new bill, the American Health Care Act, faced considerable opposition from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who criticized it for not going far enough in dismantling the ACA. But in a statement just hours after the bill’s withdrawal, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., one of the AHCA’s most vocal opponents, credited widespread grass-roots activism for the Democrats’ victory, rather than internal division among Republicans.
“The American people rose up and demanded Washington stop this cruel and inhumane bill … because they figured out pretty quickly that Donald Trump didn’t keep his promises,” Murphy said. “Donald Trump said his health care plan would cover everyone and lower costs. The bill did exactly the opposite, and that’s why it failed.”
According to analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the AHCA would eventually cut $337 billion from federal budget deficits but would also leave 14 million more Americans uninsured by next year than would the ACA. By 2026, that number would be 24 million.
An analysis by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget office found that in Connecticut, the Republican plan could cost tens of thousands of people their health care coverage and would add up to $1 billion in expenses to the state’s annual budget.
According to Murphy, figures like these helped fuel the popular outcry against the repeal of the ACA.
For Connecticut Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano, however, the bill’s failure is more a result of ideological divide within the Republican Party than a product of the Democratic Party’s efforts. Romano discounted the impact of popular mobilization, saying the bill’s opponents just wanted to take credit for accomplishing their objective. Democrats, he said, can be “delusional about their impact.”
“I think what everyone needs to understand is that the Republican Party is not centered around a uniform thought process,” Romano said. “The Democrats have these marching orders, and you must be in lockstep with their ideology or they cast you out. Amongst Republicans, we’re diverse in our thought, we’re diverse in our discussions, and I think that this was a situation where you had people who have different ideas on what the solution is.”
Although more measured in his assessment, Connecticut Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano also attributed the failure of the AHCA to intraparty divisions. Fasano pointed in particular to the Freedom Caucus’ demands, which he said were “not in the best interests of the people.”
On the heels of the AHCA’s defeat, Fasano and other Connecticut conservatives remain adamant that the health care system in place under the ACA is failing the state and in dire need of revision.
For Romano, that means Republicans must come together to clean up a mess created by Democrats, whom he blamed for creating large problems throughout the government and specifically within the health care system by passing the ACA. He said he remains confident, however, that Republicans will eventually find common ground on these issues.
Fasano, on the other hand, believes a more bipartisan approach is necessary and that improvements to the existing health care system will only be possible with interparty cooperation. He maintained, however, that no “Democrat was going to support [the AHCA].”
“I don’t think it’s a party issue; I think it’s a nation issue,” he said. “Look, I think Republicans and Democrats have got to get together on the issue.”
Democrats, too, acknowledged the need for further reform, although far smaller in scope. Even as he celebrated the preservation of the ACA, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 said in a statement Friday that more can be done to build on and improve the existing law.
Thursday marked the seventh anniversary of the ACA’s signing into law.