ADAPT Takes Medicaid Reform Fight to the Senate's Gang of Six; Meets with the White House; Attends Rockefeller Press ConferenceBy Amber Smock, Chicago ADAPT
Today, ADAPT took to Capitol Hill once again to build on the momentum of our 101 arrests in the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings. Today, we focused on the U.S. Senate, particularly the Gang of Six, the bipartisan group of Senators who are charged with creating the Senate's budget plan---its response to the House-passed Ryan Plan.
The Gang of Six consists of Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.
Six contingents of around fifty ADAPTers each visited one of the six Senators' offices to demand that the Senate budget plan eliminate the institutional bias, prevent caps on Medicaid spending, and get rid of the idea to block grant Medicaid funding to states. In addition, we asked that the Senate work to introduce legislation that will mandate community choice as a service in every state, and work with ADAPT to ensure that our voices are at the table in every decision that affects us.
In the case of each Senator, we met with an aide or the chief of staff and discussed the pros and cons of our demands. At Senator Warner's office, Michelle Ivery of ADAPT of Tennessee made the staffer cry when she asked, "If you can help other people, why can't you help us?" This was Michelle's first action and she had spent Monday night under arrest for demonstrating in the Cannon Rotunda.
Adam Ballard of Chicago ADAPT said, "I think they finally saw what the cuts mean in human terms."
Coburn's and Durbin's staff stated that they thought the Ryan Plan was a bad idea. In all cases, we definitely began dialogue that we will continue both at the national level and back home in the states. Meetings will be set up to continue these talks. ADAPT threw down a hard line that no matter how supportive the Senators may be of our cause, this issue is life and death for us and we cannot be satisfied until we have specific budgetary commitments. Show us the money! 60 million Americans rely on Medicaid and it is not acceptable to cut our lifeline.
Additionally, we sent out a call for action across the country for supporters to call and email their Senators, especially the Gang of Six, and ask them to work with us. In the first hour of the action alerts alone, over 100 emails were sent in.
Six ADAPT leaders met with Kareem Dale and Jeanne Lambrew, senior advisors at the White House on disability and the Affordable Care Act, respectively. ADAPT raised the issue of federal funding for state programs that pay for community-based supports, in particular Money Follows the Person and the pending Community First Choice Option, available in October. ADAPT also raised concerns about ensuring that federal matching funds stay at the same rate. The White House advisors could not make commitments on these issues, but ADAPT will continue to press for a promise. Community living is already White House policy---but they have to make the budget match.
Our third action of the day was attending a press conference jointly convened by the National Association of County Organizations' (NACo) Large Urban County Caucus and Senator Jay Rockefeller. Senators Bingaman (New Mexico), Merkley (Oregon), Franken (Minnesota), Blumenthal (Connecticut) and Sanders (Vermont) also attended. The location was the Capitol Visitors' Center, which is also where the official Senate Meeting Rooms are located.
Originally, we had planned to all attend; however the room was very small and filled with members of the press. Thus, ADAPTers gathered in the lobby outside the meeting rooms. Bruce Darling and I were able to make our way into the press conference itself. While I focused on tweeting out a report on the press conference, Bruce pulled aside Senators to ask them if they would speak with ADAPT. Senators Bingaman, Sanders and Rockefeller all came out to big ADAPT cheers and spoke about the importance of no block grants and no cuts to Medicaid.
The press conference itself was a challenge to the Senate from the Senators involved. They essentially made it a call to arms to stop cuts to Medicaid and stop the block grants idea. NACo represents thousands of counties nationwide that rely on Medicaid funding to operate human services. While some of this money goes to make Medicaid payments to institutions, for the most part the Senators focused on the idea that cutting services for seniors, people with disabilities and children is just plain wrong.
Senator Ron Wyden was very forceful in his views and said, "These block grants are not about flexibility, they are a mirage!" He also reflected the group's moral rejection of the Ryan Plan when he said, "it is morally repugnant to cut the poor off in this fashion." Senator Rockefeller, the group leader, called the Ryan Plan "heartless."
All in all, ADAPT made its presence known in Washington at exactly the right time as states flounder through their Medicaid crises and the Senate and House get ready for a showdown over the budget. ADAPT is, as always, ready to pitch into the fray to fight to DEFEND OUR FREEDOM!