WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told his colleagues Wednesday that if they intend to defund and dismantle the Affordable Care Act, he will be among those standing in the way.
“The estimates are between 20,000 and 30,000 of those people die each year because of the lack of health insurance,” King said during a speech on the Senate floor. “Why doesn’t that bother us?”
King spoke late in the day following a more than 20-hour floor speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who spoke against the ACA and about why the legislation should be dismantled and defunded.
King said he was discouraged the focus wasn’t on fixing the legislation.
The Senate was debating a bill that would cut funding to the legislation, commonly called “Obamacare.” Some Republicans have said they will not support a continuing federal budget resolution if Obamacare is not gutted. The impasse could lead to a federal government shutdown, if a compromise is not reached.
“Why aren’t we spending days and nights here talking about how to solve this problem instead of how to dismantle the most significant health care program that’s come to this country in years?” King asked.
He said the reason was because those thousands of deaths happen one at time and are largely “invisible” to the politicians in Washington.
“They happen one at a time,” King said. “In Greenville, Maine; in Portland, Maine, in San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas, nobody knows — It’s not listed in the obituary: ‘Died because of no health insurance.’”
King said if that many people all died on the same day at the same place Congress would act.
“We would be turning the world upside down to solve the problem,” King said. “Imagine, it’s the loss of small town in your state every year.”
He said shuttering the federal government over the political dispute around the ACA was unfathomable to him.
“I hope this weekend we can let go of this idea that a minority of the government can hold it hostage because of one particular piece of legislation that they don’t like,” King said.
“This is an economic, but it’s also a moral issue,” King said.
King said he was willing to work with his Republican colleagues to make changes to the Affordable Care Act to improve it.
“To those who want to fix it, I stand ready to help,” King said. “To those who have ideas and suggestions, I stand ready to listen. To those who want to destroy it, however, I stand in your way.”
The Senate was expected to finish its debate and vote on the matter by the end of the day on Sunday.