WASHINGTON – Arizona lawmakers followed the rest of the House Friday as it split largely down party lines to approve a budget resolution that marks the first step toward the long-held Republican goal of repealing Obamacare.
The 227-198 vote came one day after the Senate approved the measure, also mostly along party lines. One Republican in the Senate and nine in the House joined Democrats to oppose the repeal resolution.
All five Arizona Republicans in the House and both in the Senate voted for repeal. All four House Democrats from Arizona voted against it.
As in the Senate, Democrats in the House attacked Republicans for pushing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, without having a plan to replace it. They said that will throw millions of Americans back onto the rolls of the uninsured – and as many as 400,000 Arizonans.
“To repeal the Affordable Care Act without trying to work on a solution and having nothing to replace it at this point in time makes no sense for the American public,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona. “It puts families and children and those in need in danger.”
The budget resolution passed this week just starts the repeal process: Lawmakers are scheduled to return in two weeks with plans for next steps, and most experts said that current benefits will remain for at least a year.
Republicans in both chambers have also said that they have alternatives in the works, but O’Halleran said none of those plans is ready to roll out.
“After sitting through meeting after meeting this week, I have yet to see anybody who said they have a ready-to-go health care plan in place,” he said. “We all know there is some work that needs to be done on the ACA, but this is not the way to do it.”
That sentiment was echoed by a Republican constituent from O’Halleran’s district. Jeff Jeans of Sedona said he was diagnosed with cancer and given just six weeks to live, but the care he received through Obamacare “saved my life.”
“It changed my life totally,” Jeans said in a telephone interview after Friday’s vote.
“I am sad to hear that Congress voted to repeal Obamacare. I’m just sad,” said Jeans, who confronted House Speaker Paul Ryan in a CNN town hall Thursday night. “I hope that they have a couple alternatives, but I don’t know if they’ll do it or not. You never know what they’re going to do.”
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson, voted for the repeal resolution even though, like many,
“I have concerns about providing for the transition to a better health care system.
“Throughout this week, I have engaged with House leadership and my colleagues to voice and address those concerns,” she said in a statement released by her office. “As we move forward, my focus will be on providing continuity and certainty for my constituents to ensure they have access to the health care they need during this transition.”
But McSally said problems with Obamacare – “which was flawed from the beginning, is collapsing under its own weight” – required Congress to act.
Supporters stress that the law has meant health care for hundreds of thousands in Arizona, but critics point to a doubling premiums in the state this year, the biggest increases in the nation. They also note that most insurance companies that had been providing coverage in the state have pulled out, leaving most counties with just one insurer.
“Obamacare has been an abject failure, raising insurance premiums, increasing deductibles, and causing millions of Americans to lose their doctors,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said in a statement released by his office.
“This week’s congressional action is the first step towards giving the keys to true health care reform back to the free market and the states, and I am proud to have cast this vote,” Biggs’ statement said.
But Arizona Democratic Party Chair Alexis Tameron said Biggs and other Republicans should be ashamed of the vote that will take away health care “just to score political points.”
“Unbelievable. Even after being confronted last night on national television, Speaker Ryan and House Republicans show zero compassion for millions of Americans depending on the Affordable Care Act for life-saving care,” Tameron said in a prepared statement.