‘Vote no’: Left takes to TV and sky to reach Murkowski

Sen. Murkowski greeted health care advocates after a hearing Sept. 6. Photo: Liz Ruskin

Advocates on the left are cranking up the pressure on Sen. Murkowski to vote against the latest bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

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Some groups have online ads. A group called “Save My Care” is airing a television spot.

One national feminist group has hired an airplane to tow a banner over Anchorage Thursday.

“The banner will say ‘Murkowski don’t back down. Protect our care,'” Karin Roland, chief campaigns officer for the group UltraViolet, said. She said her group will have similar banners flying in Arizona and Maine, aimed at Senators John McCain and Susan Collins. They and Murkowski were the only Republican senators to vote against health care repeal in July.

“We wanted to pull out all the stops to make sure this message is heard and seen in the skies,” Roland said.

Murkowski hasn’t said how she’ll vote on Graham-Cassidy. The bill would

  • end the obligation to buy insurance, for individuals and employers
  • stop the subsidies for people who purchase their own plans and
  • eliminate the money for Medicaid expansion.

Instead, states would get block grants until they end in 2027 and a set amount per Medicaid patient.

Murkowski said she’s waiting for the data to see how the bill will affect Alaska. Some liberal advocacy groups are happy to supply numbers.

Topher Spiro of the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. has tweeted that at least four studies of the bill are out to help Murkowski make up her mind.

“And they universally show big cuts for Alaska,” Spiro said.

One study Spiro cited shows the annual cut for Alaska would be $844 million starting in 2027.

Emily Nenon in the Anchorage office of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said her group had protesters in in front of Murkowski’s office this week with “just say no” signs.

“We absolutely have many volunteers that have been calling in to (Senate) offices,” Nenon said. “We’ve been getting reports of voicemail boxes being full and then (hear) ‘Oh! The voicemail box has been cleared out. Time to start the calls again.'”

Nenon criticized the bill for weakening protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“For anybody that’s had a cancer diagnosis, that’s just a terrifying thought, to not be able to access insurance at all,” Nenon said.

Planned Parenthood has activated its base, too. The Graham-Cassidy bill would defund the group, meaning Planned Parenthood clinics could not get reimbursed for the Medicaid patients they treat. Northwestern chapter CEO Chris Charbonneau said Planned Parenthood’s objections to the bill are broader than that. She wants Murkowski to know its Alaska supporters are watching and ready to “show her some love” for voting no again.

“I think the whole nation is counting on her to be sure that she does what people need this time around,” Charbonneau said.

Murkowski is hearing from the right side of the political spectrum, too. Ron Johnson of Palmer said he and other conservative activists have placed calls urging her to vote yes on Graham-Cassidy. Not that Johnson thinks it’ll do much good.

“I don’t think anything we can do is going to change her mind,” said Johnson, a Republican district chairman.

Last month, after Murkowski’s first votes against health care repeal, Johnson tried to get the Alaska Republican Party’s central committee to condemn her votes, on the grounds that they went against the party platform. But Johnson said a threat to withdraw party support isn’t going to faze her.

“Sen. Murkowski is untouchable,” Johnson said. “She’s got more money than she knows what to do with. Her campaign war chest funded the Republican Party in Alaska last election cycle, rather than the other way around”

Campaign finance reports show Murkowski’s campaign and her political action committee gave the state party about $400,000 ahead of last year’s election.

Both Alaska senators declined to give interviews for this story. A spokesman for Sen. Dan Sullivan said he had a full slate of meetings, including one at his office that included Murkowski and the prime sponsors of the repeal bill, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C. and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

But Sullivan did make time Tuesday to discuss the bill with Neil Cavuto on Fox News.  Sullivan said he’s still studying the bill, but he had some nice things to say about it.

“If you’re for federalism, if you’re for the 10th Amendment, this has a lot of attraction,” Sullivan said. (The 10th Amendment reserves powers to the states.)

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s committed to bringing the repeal bill to a vote next week.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz