Former vice president Joe Biden on Wednesday said the Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act is a "tax bill" that would transfer close to $1 trillion, now spent on health care benefits, to wealthy people who "don't need it."
Hoping to preserve President Obama's signature health care law, Biden appeared at a rally on the U.S. Capitol steps with fellow Democrats and beneficiaries of the 2010 law, one day before the House is expected to vote on repeal-and-replace legislation that Democrats have dubbed "Trumpcare."
Eliminating the law known as Obamacare, Biden said, will only benefit drug companies, insurance companies and medical device companies and provide insignificant tax breaks for the very wealthy.
"This is going to mean an additional 57,000 bucks a year in tax breaks for people making one million dollars a year," Biden said. "I believe if you lined up all the millionaires in America and said, 'Do you think this is fair?' I think they'd say, 'No.' "
Biden's appearance on Capitol Hill — his first since President Trump's inauguration — is part of Democrats' "all hands on deck" battle plan to fight legislation they're portraying as a gift to corporate America and the wealthy.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a letter Tuesday night, urged her colleagues to "use all available time" to speak out against the Republican bill on the House floor and during Wednesday's meeting of the Rules Committee, which is the last step before the bill comes to a vote on the floor.
"Today we are gathered to say how proud we are of what was accomplished and contrast it with what is being proposed," Pelosi said during the rally. "Less care for more money. Pay more, get less. Premiums and out-of-pocket costs will go up. Coverage will be reduced."
It's unclear whether House Republicans will have the votes needed to pass the bill, given the expectation that all Democrats will oppose it and that conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus say it doesn't go far enough in repealing Obamacare.
Democratic leaders have encouraged members to offer no amendments, since Republicans aren't likely to allow any significant changes to the bill. By not offering amendments, Democrats hope to reduce the amount of time Republicans have to convince their colleagues to support for the bill and deny them the opportunity to call the bill bipartisan if they were to adopt a non-controversial Democratic measure.
The rally outside the Capitol came one day shy of seven years after Biden marked the signing of the Affordable Care Act by declaring it a "big f---ing deal" in a whispered remark to President Obama that was picked up by a hot microphone.
"I want to tell Gov. Brown, 'Be careful what he whispers to me,'" Biden said of California Gov. Jerry Brown, who stood behind Biden. "Thank God my mother wasn't around when that comment was picked up years ago."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, recalling Biden's 2010 remark, said it would be a "BFD" if Democrats could beat "Trumpcare" and prevent it from passing.
Given Biden's appearance, Schumer said he looked up how "Trumpcare" would impact Vice President Pence's home state of Indiana. Since passage of Obamacare, the uninsured rate in Indiana has dropped by 35% with 339,000 Hoosiers gaining coverage, he said.
"What are you gonna say to them, Vice President Pence?" Schumer said. "Under Trumpcare, this progress would evaporate and devastate Hoosiers. So one has to wonder, if Vice President Pence isn't looking out for his own state, who is he looking out for? We know who. The very wealthy in America."
Biden said that, to him, the Affordable Care Act was about giving people peace of mind that they wouldn't lose everything if they faced a health crisis. The administration knew that improvements would be needed, just as when Social Security first passed Congress. But the entire law doesn't need to be dismantled, he said.
"The improvements are doable," he said. "They're within our wheelhouse."
Highlighting the opioid epidemic, Biden said the Affordable Care Act allows 1.4 million people who are addicted to get mental health care and drug treatment they need to regain control of their lives.
"Elimination of this — the costs are enormous," he said. "The cost of law enforcement, the cost to the community. There are so many, so many hidden costs that will be resurrected here if this was repealed."