SD Congressional Watch–Feb 2017 Supplemental

Welcome to the supplemental edition of the San Diego Congressional Watch for February, 2017!

The calendar has flipped to 2017, and my how things have changed. With Republicans now fully in charge of the federal government, they have wasted no time in moving full speed ahead in flexing their policy muscles. As expected, among the first items on the agenda was taking steps to actually, fully repeal the Affordable Care Act—or Obamacare, if you will. For real this time.

With Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, Republicans now actually have the ability, and not just the will, to dismantle Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. And this time they really, really mean it. They’re going to dump that abomination of an unconstitutional legislative overreach, nevermind that the Supreme Court has affirmed the law. Twice.

True to his word, Donald Trump’s very first act as president shortly after taking the oath of office was to sign an executive order that laid the groundwork for the repeal of Obamacare and to replace it with…..well, no one knows. What we do know is that 20 million people who have gained access to health care are poised to lose that health security.

Democrats are fighting back, albeit with limited power to do so. But they’re spreading the word on what the repeal of the ACA will mean for average Americans; on how it will affect the lives of real people.

susan-davis-aca-1-15To that end, on January 15, Susan Davis (D-53) and Scott Peters (D-52) held a press conference at Sharp Hospital in San Diego to highlight exactly what kind of damage a repeal of the ACA will do, and to whom.

“I get really frustrated when I hear the conversation in Washington. It seems to skip over the real impact the repeal will have on our communities,” said Davis. “I can’t tell you how many San Diegans I’ve spoken with who are scared to death of losing their care.”

If the repeal does become a reality, Davis says, 300,000 people in San Diego would lose access to health care.

“Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in Congress have fast tracked a repeal of the law without any plan for a replacement,” said Peters. “The repeal of the law would not only leave millions of Americans without health insurance, but it would blow a crater sized hole in the federal budget, and it would add $350 billion to the national debt in the next 10 years.”

scott-peters-aca-1-15The real impact of the press conference came from the stories of those who stand to lose the most if the law is repealed without a serious plan for replacement. Elizabeth Silva, a hospice worker and mother of a seven-year-old son, suffers from bronchitis obliterans, a condition with no cure. She is now waiting on a lung transplant for survival. She would not have had access to care without Obamacare.

Stephanie McMahon’s three-year-old daughter, Charlie, has leukemia. “We are an average American family,” said McMahon. “My husband and I both have good jobs, and we own our home in San Diego.” The McMahons both work for small businesses and buy their health insurance through Covered California, the state’s healthcare exchange. In six months their daughter’s medical bills have exceeded $250,000, not including prescription medicines.

“The misconception,” McMahon said, “is that the Affordable Care Act only benefits people who are needy, poor, or not working. This is not true. It guarantees people like my daughter access to health care who would otherwise be denied based on pre-existing conditions.”

“If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my daughter will lose access to health care, and we will have to pay out of pocket for her treatment which will cost over $1 million.”

Juan Vargas (D-51), whose district spans the entire length of California’s border with Mexico, said Donald Trump is “a bit of a caricature president,” who “doesn’t seem like a real president at the moment.” Vargas appeared on MSNBC to discuss Trump’s executive order paving the way to build a border wall along the entire expanse of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We already have the wall here. In fact, in some places, we have three walls,” said Vargas. “They put these things in saying it was going to stop immigration. They didn’t. People got bigger ladders, they tunneled underneath, and so unless he wants to build a fourth wall, we already have it.”

“We have a great relationship here along the border with Mexico. One of the little secrets is that we have a great relationship with law enforcement in Mexico both locally, at the state, and at the federal level,” Vargas said. “We work with Mexico quite closely to make sure that the problems they have with narcotraffickers don’t spill over into San Diego. In fact, San Diego is one of the safest large cities because of that.”

“The things that are happening here along the border have been good for both sides,” Vargas said. “I think it is time for Donald Trump to grow up.”

The plot continued to thicken for Duncan Hunter (R-50), as the San Diego Union Tribune uncovered more evidence of Hunter using campaign funds for personal expenses. Among the newly scrutinized expenses, the paper uncovered tens of thousands of dollars in expenses, including stays at several resorts in California and Arizona where Hunter’s daughters were competitors at Irish dance competitions.

Hunter has only repaid a portion of approximately $65,000 in personal charges that were paid for with campaign funds. The campaign has attributed the errors to “sloppy bookkeeping,” and said that any funds not repaid have been deemed legitimate.

“Having to collect all these things after the fact does suggest sloppiness and a lack of detail, and you have to wonder, ‘How far does this go, and what other rules are not being followed?” said Larry Noble, the general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “You can’t avoid all questions and review of what you’re doing by saying, ‘We kept sloppy records.’”

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