GOP Senators Get Lunch, Marching Orders to Sell Health-Care Bill

Hardened generals know that if you want your soldiers to perform it’s best to feed them well before you send them out to fight your battles.

That rule also applies in legislative fights, and before he sent his troops home to explain the latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made sure Republicans had full bellies and their talking points in order.

After unveiling an ACA bill that had been the subject of secret talks for weeks, McConnell and other Republican leaders again retreated a couple of hours later behind closed doors for a luncheon that featured Miss Mary’s Famous Chicken with Pastry from Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House Restaurant in Lynchburg, Tenn. Accompanying that were “tipsy” sweet potatoes, fried okra, country-style green beans, sliced Tennessee tomatoes, and blackberry cobbler with ice cream.

The menu

The senators also were given cards to carry in their breast pockets to help them understand how the GOP’s bill – which McConnell wants to bring to the floor the week of July 26 and have passed in little more than two days – can succeed despite constituents’ concerns that changes could cost them their coverage or drive up their premiums.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the “path to yes” on the ACA bill includes far-ranging changes to rein in the long-term growth of Medicaid programs that service the poor.

“Every Republican campaigned on stopping the out-of-control debt that threatens our future,” lawmakers were told during the lunch near the Senate chamber. “If we squander this unique opportunity to implement meaningful entitlement reform—if we double the historic growth rate of Medicaid, as the current [law] does—we should bend the cost curve downwards, enacting structural reforms to ensure long-term fiscal sustainability.”

Armed with lunch and talking points senators soon took off for their cars and headed for the airport, consistent with the usual departure by 3 or earlier on Thursday afternoon.

Mostly unnoticed by senators was the protest that many dependent on the ACA staged in front of McConnell’s office across the street in the Russell Senate Office Building at midday. Protesters who took part in the “die-in” said “structural reforms” such as the cuts to Medicaid in the GOP could cost them their lives.

Health care bill protesters

The Congressional Budget Office hasn’t scored the bill yet but earlier said a similar House GOP bill would result in 23 million people losing coverage. 

Several protesters were dragged away from McConnell’s office by U.S. Capitol Police officers.