Engel tells Indivisible he'll keep fighting for health care


Donald Trump earned a rare victory Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed some parts of his travel ban executive order to go into effect. 

Yet, the president seems light years away from cementing his legacy when it comes to repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. And that legislation will remain stalled if Eliot Engel has anything to say about it.

Engel, the 15-term congressman representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, lambasted Trump’s plan — now known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act — as it stumbles its way through the upper chamber. While there’s a good chance what’s known as Obamacare might be around for a little while longer, Engel told a crowd from the Northwest Bronx Indivisible political group that grassroots politics are more important now than ever before when it comes to the health care debate.

“I’m not saying the Affordable Care Act was perfect, it wasn’t,” Engel said. “All the important omnibus bills have to be tweaked. You pass a bill with good intentions, and then you see how it works for a couple years, and then you make adjustments. That’s the way you do it.”

Engel is a proponent of a single-payer health care system, similar to what’s used in parts of Europe and Canada. Although Democrats held a majority in both chambers early in Obama’s first term, Engel’s party simply couldn’t get single-payer pushed forward. 

The Affordable Care Act was a compromise bill that even Engel wasn’t fully happy with, but felt Congress would go back and fix as time went on. 

Republicans, however, have sought an outright repeal of the bill, which some have estimated added more than 20 million people to insurance rolls. The House voted more than 50 times to eject the ACA, but that was more of a symbolic move since it would never pass the Senate or have earned Obama’s signature.

With two branches of government under GOP control now, it seemed ACA’s days were truly numbered. Except Republicans haven’t found much traction on their replacement idea. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts the current Senate bill would take health insurance away from 22 million people, 15 million of them losing Medicaid. 

The bill was unpopular, even with some Republicans, to the point that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell canceled the planned vote this week on Tuesday.

Engel, however, said in a small way, he hopes the Republicans find a way to pass their version of health care.

“I don’t think they have the votes to pass the bill, but I hope they do,” the congressman said. “Let people do this, and let them see what they are all about when it comes to health care. “

“God bless the rich. I wish I was one of them. But you know what they don’t need? Help from the government. The working class needs help. Poor people need help.”

After the presidential election loss, and some key victories by Republicans in special elections this year, Democrats have suffered through some civil skirmishes of their own. Engel warned that if those differences aren’t worked through quickly, it could be a long, tough road for Democrats.

“We should keep our eye on the prize,” he said. 

“Have Democratic control of the House and Senate, and a Democratic president in 2020. We need to remember that the enemy is not us. The bottom line is if we all want what’s best for our country, there’s certainly nothing better for our country is to be in Washington and to control the agenda in Washington.”

Democrats also need to refine their message, especially when it comes to voters. 

Working families and union members have inched toward the Republican side in recent elections, with Engel blaming that on a simple failure to connect.

“We have to work to let the middle class and working class know that we are there for them,” Engel said. “If we start losing working class people, we are in big trouble.”

“It’s just messaging and letting people know what we stand for and why they should vote for us. We have done it before, and we can do it again.”

Northwest Bronx Indivisible formed earlier this year following the election of Donald Trump, and as of last spring, boasted as many as 500 members, including a strong contingent in Riverdale.