The American Health Care Act (AHCA) may have passed the House on Thursday, but it still has to clear another hurdle before it lands on President Trump's desk — one that could prove a lot more rigid than the Republicans' single-minded ideological determination. The AHCA now heads to the Senate, where it will go up against lawmakers keenly aware of the public backlash that their colleagues in the House of Representatives are facing. But if history is anything to go by, leaving lawmakers to their own devices has never been a winning strategy; stopping the AHCA from passing in the Senate will require a concerted effort from the public, too.
From its passage in the House leading up to its vote in the Senate, expect the AHCA to continue stoking criticism, both from lawmakers in Capitol Hill and from groups it will most negatively affect — women, low-income communities, students with disabilities, the elderly, anyone with a medical condition, the list goes on. Sustained and widespread criticism of the AHCA is important. It tunes lawmakers to the public's mood on the bill, a method that is perhaps more effective today than ever before considering the president's sensitivity to criticism.
But as we've learned from Trump's cabinet nominee hearings, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned phone call to your senator to really drive your point home — especially if your senator's a Republican. The fervid opposition to Betsy Devos' confirmation as secretary of Education led to her very nearly losing out on the position. In the run-up to her hearing in the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike received a barrage of phone calls from constituents, overwhelmingly in opposition to her confirmation. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski broke with the party vote after constituents flooded her office with phone calls urging her to oppose Devos' nomination.
The Senate will need 51 votes to pass the AHCA, and with 52 Republican senators, the GOP might have some trouble. A handful of Senate Republicans have already expressed opposition to the bill in its current form. Sen. Rob Portman, for one, issued a statement quickly after the House vote. "I continue to have concerns that this bill does not do enough to protect Ohio's Medicaid expansion population, especially those who are receiving treatment for heroin and prescription drug abuse," Portman said.
With the 2018 elections looming over their every move, a tenacious calling campaign, so to speak, could push Republicans to change their vote — or at least consider doing so. And though Democratic senators look likely to vote "no" altogether, that's not a case to let up on them. If anything, letting Democrats have a taste of the backlash against the AHCA can only keep them on their toes; otherwise, calling to voice your support for their work is always impetus for them to work harder for their constituents.
Obamacare has flaws that need to be addressed, but the health care law has transformed the insurance industry the way medical providers approach health care. The obvious solution, then, is to fix it, not repeal and replace it. The GOP may maintain its stubborn insistence to destroy a law that has changed the country, but voters still have the power to sway their positions in the coming weeks — especially with the midterm elections closing in on them.