WASHINGTON — As the Senate Finance Committee carried out a public hearing on the economic ramifications of the latest Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, hundreds of protesters swarmed the building to express their disapproval of the Graham-Cassidy bill that is being considered.
Hundreds of Capitol Hill police officers surrounded the hearing room as demonstrators were dragged out for interrupting the hearing.
The walls outside the hearing room were lined with protesters, whom the police barricaded off from the rest of the public. The police then proceeded to remove protesters in small groups.
The protesters were shouting in unison, “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty,” which could be heard from two floors beneath the hearing room.
Outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building, many of the protesters required powered wheelchairs, creating a backed-up line of arrested demonstrators. Capitol police have not released official arrest numbers, but 150-200 protesters were lined up outside and detained inside police tape as buses arrived to haul them off.
The protesters came to Washington from all over the country, according to Ryan Zeiger, who was one of the organisers for the disability rights group ADAPT.
Zeiger, who travelled to Washington, DC from Denver, told Business Insider their goal was “to do civil disobedience.”
“Send a signal — a strong signal — to people,” he said. “And for a lot of these people, a lot of people in ADAPT, this bill really is life or death. That means regressing back to a system where someone, a quadriplegic, gets three visits a week, you know like stuck in bed for days at a time. And that’s just crazy.”
The Graham-Cassidy healthcare plan has received very few hearings and was pushed through the Senate on a partisan basis. The lack of regular order prompted Sen. John McCain of Arizona to publicly come out against the bill, which has the legislation’s future hanging by a thread.
The Republicans’ condemnations prompted the bill’s authors to revise certain aspects, giving more funding to the states whose senators were on the fence about voting yes.
However, Republicans are moving forward with the bill and plan to vote before the September 30 deadline to use the reconciliation process, allowing them to bypass a filibuster with a simple majority.
The bill divides federal healthcare funding to the states using block grants — a lump sum of sorts paid up front to states — rather than the current per cent match of actual spending.
It would also slice significant federal healthcare funding over the next 10 years and eliminate the Medicaid expansion introduced by Obamacare altogether after that.
The bill also would loosen, and may even weaken further, protections for Americans with preexisting conditions — an issue highlighted by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel last week.
Bob Bryan contributed to this report.
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