DENVER – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet made an impassioned speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, slamming the Republicans’ “terrible” health care bills and chiding President Donald Trump for not holding up his campaign promises on health care.
The speech from the Colorado Democrat came shortly after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said that he would knock off the first two weeks of the Senate’s August recess in order to try and pass a health care bill and work on other GOP priorities.
“This terrible bill that we are considering, which is not a bill that…virtually anybody in my state supports or have asked for, [but] is what we’ve got in front of us,” Bennet said.
Bennet, who has continually opposed the measures contained in what Republicans have so far put into the health care bills, said he welcomed putting off recess if a health care bill he could support would be drafted with input from both sides of the aisle.
McConnell has said he hopes to vote on a new health care bill sometime next week, though a new Senate version of the bill has yet to be released. The only Senate draft version did not receive enough Republican support to make it to the floor.
“I don’t care, Mr. President, if it’s a month. I don’t care if they cancel every recess that we have between now and the end of the year. I don’t care if we work on weekends if it will create a situation where we can actually improve health care for the American people,” Bennet said.
He said McConnell was “trying to jam through a bill that’s incredibly unpopular with the American people” by trying to force a vote before August.
McConnell on Wednesday called a meeting of Republican senators to discuss health care Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET.
But Bennet also postulated that there were perhaps other reasons McConnell pushed back the recess, which usually serves as a time for members of Congress to visit their home states and hold meetings with constituents.
“I have to suspect that one reason they want to keep us in in August is because they don’t want to go home, because they were just beaten to death over the July 4 recess because people came out, Republican and Democrat parts of their state, and said, ‘Are you out of your minds?’” Bennet said.
He had kicked off his speech by talking about his recent visits to Colorado, where he held a handful of town halls in various parts of the state over the past several months. He said no matter their party, Coloradans had issues with parts of the bill—specifically the removal of taxes in the Affordable Care Act that hit people earning more than $250,000 a year.
“We have a bill passed by the House that was a massive tax cut for the richest people in America which literally nobody in my town halls in red or blue parts of my state has ever said is something that would help with their health care. Not a single person.”
Bennet also took shots at some of his Republican colleagues, many of whom, including his fellow senator from Colorado, Cory Gardner, were elected as part of the Tea Party movement that followed President Barack Obama’s election.
“I spent a year and a half in Colorado, in certain places being called a Bolshevik or a socialist, being accused of advocating for a government takeover of our health care system …. People would come and they’d say, quite rightly, read the bill. Read the bill. We need to take our government back,” Bennet said. “So we tried to address some of those things and that became the Affordable Care Act.”
And Bennet then spent time reminding those in the Senate that House Republicans then spent years voting to repeal the ACA after they re-took the majority.
“That became something that was politicized for seven years as the House of Representatives cynically, month after month, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then they went home to their districts—the majority of the House—they went home to their districts and said, ‘We repealed Obamacare,’” Bennet said. “Well, you didn’t repeal it. ‘No, we voted to repeal it. And you send me back there next week and I will do the same thing and I will do it the week after that.”
“Some people said, ‘You keep having votes on repealing Obamacare, why haven’t you actually done it?’” Bennet continued. “They said, ‘Well, we didn’t have the Senate.’ Well, they’ve had the Senate now for two Congresses. They said, ‘Well, we didn’t have the presidency.’ Well now, we have the same party in the presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives.”
But he saved his strongest tongue-lashing for President Trump himself:
"I know somebody else who knew that the American people were dissatisfied with their health care system, and that was Donald J. Trump when he was running for president of the United States,” Bennet said. “And I hope the people in particular that voted for the president as a way of keeping Washington accountable will remember that what he said was that he was going to provide to the American people a ‘terrific plan’ to ‘cover everyone at a fraction of the cost.’
“You know, the president when he was still running—he still does it—was very fond talking about—his words—how stupid everyone in Washington was. He knew how to make deals, He was going to come here and make great deals. He was going to cover everybody, everybody at a fraction of the price with a terrific plan.
“That’s what he promised the American people. That’s what he was peddling when he was running for president. He said, ‘You’re going to be taken care of much better than you’re taken care of now.
“That’s what he said. This isn’t fake news. This isn’t CNN or The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or whoever is in the crosshairs.
“This is what the president said on the campaign trail when he was running because he detected, quite rightly, that the American people are unhappy with the way our health care system works, unhappy in the richest country of the world to have a health care system where people have to make decisions about their lives and about their children’s lives that no one else in the industrialized world has to make about their lives or their children’s lives, and they wonder why.”
He continued to chastise the president over his calling people using entitlements lazy and suggesting that people on Medicaid “get a job”: “Do they need to get a third or fourth job before we’re saying they’re not lazy?” Bennet queried. “Mr. President, are they supposed to be at work or can they go to school?”
And he says that recent work done on the bill, including an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, haven’t made the Senate bill better.
“You can create the worst product in the world and make it affordable. That’s not hard to do,” Bennet said.
And as he’s pushed for over the past several weeks, Bennet said he wants a bipartisan effort to address what he says are definite problems with portions of the ACA, and he believes his constituents in Colorado feel the same.
“Have hearings. Make it work. Have hearings that have witnesses. I can think of 100 Coloradans off the top of my head who would like to come here and testify. I would even say 50 can be Republicans and 50 of them can be Democrats. Have them come testify on what would make health care better for them because that’s what this should be about,” Bennet said.
“If the president could submit a proposal that actually would meet the criteria that he set out when he was running for president instead of having a bill that he couldn’t pass with even 51 Republican votes, he’d have a bill he could pass with a hundred votes in the Senate.”
As McConnell and Senate Republicans continue to try and work out fixes to their bill to try and get holdout Republicans to support a bill, Gardner’s staffers say the Republican senator and his policymakers have been speaking with Coloradans and health care organizations regularly.
“Sen. Gardner continues to have frequent dialogue with Coloradans on health care and continues to review the draft legislation released recently in the Senate,” his spokesman, Casey Contres, said Wednesday. “There are changes being made to the legislation before it could get potentially voted on and Sen. Gardner will review them closely.”
As for the recess, Gardner also welcomed the delay.
“Delaying the start of the August in-state work period is the right move,” he tweeted Tuesday. “We’ve got important work that needs to continue.”
In the meantime, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has put together a proposal to break up the Medicaid provisions, tax code changes, and insurance market reform parts of the new health care bills to try and pass them separately.
He presented his proposal to House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House Republicans Wednesday morning.