It didn't take long. During the first week of 2017, the new Republican Congress has begun efforts to dismantle America's health care system. Their long-standing goal, consistent with their right-wing ideology, is to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans, privatize Medicare, make massive cuts to Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood. At the same time, in the midst of grotesque and growing income and wealth inequality, they're preparing to allow pharmaceutical companies to increase drug prices and to hand out obscene tax breaks for the top one-tenth of 1 percent.
Let me be absolutely clear: The impact of repealing large pieces of the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans are planning to put on Donald Trump's desk on his first day in the White House, would be devastating. If Republicans get their way, 30 million Americans, 82 percent of whom are from working families, will lose their health insurance. With Medicare privatized, seniors will see their premiums increase by as much as 50 percent while their benefits are cut and funding for nursing-home care dries up. Underfunded hospitals around the country, particularly in rural areas, could be forced to close their doors, leaving millions of Americans with nowhere to turn for critical medical care. Patient protections, like preventing insurance companies from denying coverage because of a preexisting condition, removing the cap on maximum health-care benefits, allowing children to stay on their parents' health insurance plans until age 26 and preventing discrimination by insurers, would be eliminated.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry's greed will be rewarded as prescription drug costs for older Americans will likely rise by as much as 50 percent, and the wealthiest 2 percent can look forward to a $346 billion tax break.
Not only is the Republican plan immoral and bad economic and social policy, it violates numerous promises that Donald Trump made to the American people during his campaign. Trump told senior citizens and the American working class, many of whom ended up voting for him, that he was a different kind of Republican, and that he would not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. In a May 2015 tweet, Trump said: "I was the first & only GOP presidential candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid." In September, he told "60 Minutes" that if he was elected president, his health-care plan would take care of "everybody."
Trump now has a choice: He can tell the American people that these campaign promises were lies and that he never intended to keep them. Or (and I hope this is the case) he can instruct his Republican colleagues to end their efforts to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and inform them that if they don't, he will veto any bills that cut those life-and-death programs.
Those are Trump's options. As we enter the new year, our message to Republicans is simple and straightforward: We will not allow you to punish the elderly, disabled veterans, children, the sick and the poor while you reward your billionaire friends. Instead, we will fight back. We will rally millions of Americans to make it clear to Republican leadership that we will not accept this vicious attack against senior citizens and working families. We will demonstrate in their communities, jam up their phone lines and throw them out at the ballot box if they go forward with their plans.
That is why on Jan. 15, I and Democratic members of Congress, trade unions, senior citizen groups, health-care activists and all those who believe in economic and social justice are organizing a day of action called "Our First Stand: Save Health Care." Rallies will be held around the country, including one in Michigan that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and I will be attending along with Michigan's U.S. senators.
If Trump allows the Republican Party to go ahead with its plans, it will dismantle the health-care system and jeopardize the economic security of millions of Americans. Democrats in Congress will resist, but real change never starts from inside the Beltway. It always comes when millions of Americans at the grass-roots level stand up and fight for economic, social, racial and environmental justice. We always win when we stand together. We lose when we are apathetic or allow demagogues to divide us. That's why it's more important than ever to recommit to building a progressive movement that transforms the economic and political life of our country.
Otherwise, we'll be back where we were eight years ago, when millions of American families struggled to make a living without any way to pay for health care if they got sick. Elderly people, children and disabled veterans will be denied access to doctors and medication, and many will suffer or die prematurely.
Fifteen years ago, Donald Trump said he was for universal health care. I hope he still is. The truth is we shouldn't be debating whether to take health care away from 30 million Americans. We should be finding ways to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all people as a right. This is the conversation American policymakers need to be having right now. And we're not going to let Trump or Congress forget it.
Bernie Sanders, I, is a U.S. senator from Vermont.