Sen. Bernard Sanders and Democratic leaders on Wednesday called for nationwide rallies as part of a “day of action” this month to protest GOP plans to dismantle Obamacare and revamp the Medicare program for seniors.
Mr. Sanders, the Vermont independent who emerged as a progressive hero during the 2016 campaign, warned in a “dear colleague” letter that Republicans in charge of both chambers will use a fast-track budget tool to gut the Affordable Care Act, imperiling coverage for millions.
He also said the GOP could pursue a “voucherlike” system for Medicare, a nod to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s longstanding plan to replace the program’s open-ended entitlement with a “premium-support” model.
The letter pinpoints Sunday, Jan. 15 — the day before Martin Luther King Day — as a day to publicly resist the GOP’s ideas.
“Rallies will be held around the country to vigorously oppose the Republican plan to end Medicare as we know it and throw our health care system into chaos,” Mr. Sanders wrote, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.
The rallies would coincide with GOP efforts in the new Congress to use what’s known as “budget reconciliation” to dismantle Obamacare on a majority-line vote and avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Republican leaders and President-elect Donald Trump say they will then replace Obamacare with a plan that uses market forces to entice Americans into coverage instead of an individual mandate from the government, though they haven’t fully sketched out their plans.
GOP leaders say existing Obamacare enrollees will not forfeit coverage while their party reaches for consensus on their own plan, though Democrats argue this “transition period” poses peril, since companies may flee from President Obama’s politically doomed insurance exchanges.
The Democrats’ letter alludes to an Urban Institute study that estimated about 30 million Americans could lose their insurance if the GOP falters in its replacement scheme — the result of scrapping Obamacare’s subsidies for private plans, expansion of the Medicaid program and the ripple effect of upheaval in the insurance market.
The potential upheaval has spooked some centrist Republicans, who say the party would be better off having a replacement in hand before enacting repeal.
Leading Democrats also are spoiling for a fight over Medicare, saying Republicans will get burned at the ballot box if they fiddle with the program — often called the “third rail” of politics — that covers about 55 million Americans age 65 and older and younger people with disabilities.
Mr. Trump adhered to that belief during the campaign, saying he would work to weed out waste and fraud in the big entitlement programs, but didn’t plan any benefit cuts.
Congressional GOP leaders, however, say tough choices are needed to preserve Medicare for future generations.
Mr. Trump’s decision to select Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, as his secretary of the Health and Human Services Department sparked speculation that the Trump administration could be preparing for a Medicare fight, since the congressman, who succeeded Mr. Ryan as Budget Committee chief, endorsed the Medicare changes.
“It’s important to bring the American people together to fight this radical proposal,” the Democrats wrote. “Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump after he promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He must be held to his promises and should veto any legislation which cuts these vital and necessary health programs.”
Under the Ryan plan, the government would offer a fixed contribution to seniors to help them buy private plans. The House speaker also wants to gradually raise the eligibility age from 65 to 67 for enrollees.
Democrats worry the model wouldn’t keep pace with rising medical costs, leaving seniors in the lurch after they paid into the system during their working years.