An estimated 1,700 Portlanders rallied today to save the imperiled Affordable Care Act, responding with ecstatic applause to speeches by U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and other Oregon lawmakers about the fight they plan to stop Republicans from dismantling the healthcare law.
But when the speeches were over, Wyden and Merkley admitted that they don't currently have the votes to save Obamacare.
Merkley asked the crowd to yell the first three words of the Constitution.
"We the people!" the crowd responded.
"How about healthcare for we the people and not the insurance companies?" Merkley asked. "How about healthcare for we the people, not just for the rich who can afford it? How about healthcare for the poor, for working people, for seniors, for children, for everyone? Let's get it done."
Wyden repeatedly told the crowd he was going to "take the gloves off to say hands off" to Republicans who want to repeal the law.
"It's going to be the titanic bout of a lifetime and the people are going to prevail," Wyden told the roaring crowd.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) had another crowd-pleaser:
"Nasty women get shit done," Blumenauer said.
The crowd packed the gym of local non-profit Self Enhancement Inc. in North Portland's Boise neighborhood, with an overflow of hundreds more outside.
Gretchen Jones, 35-year-old Portland clothing designer and activist who won season eight of "Project Runway," said she was glad to see that the crowd included all ages.
"I'm glad to see that it's not just gray-hairs," Jones said. "Because this affects everyone."
Becca Alexander, a 39-year-old doctoral student in behavioral neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University, said her multiple health conditions mean she pays $450 per month for healthcare.
She said a repeal of the ACA could ruin her financially.
"It's unfathomable," Alexander said. "I can't even think about it right now, it's so overwhelming. I have two jobs already. So I don't know how I can squeeze in another job just to stay alive. This is a life or death situation. It's really dire."
Ahmed Elbeltagi, 24, said his father might be dead if not for Obamacare.
Elbeltagi's father, Ehab, had a stroke one month after he got insurance under the ACA, Elbeltagi said.
"I was there. I gave him CPR," Elbeltagi said. "His hospital bill was around $60,000. Before the ACA, he didn't have insurance at all. He would have either gone bankrupt or he wouldn't have been able to afford the follow-up treatments and he might not be here today."
Wyden told the crowd he wouldn't let Republicans get away with sacrificing their needs in pursuit of tax cuts for the rich.
"Opponents of the Affordable Care Act are trying to use it as a Trojan horse to cut taxes for those who can most afford it by cutting healthcare to working families," Wyden said. "We're going to say hands off to any kind of tax cut that requires working families to give another tax cut to those who can most afford it."
But when questioned by reporters after the rally, Merkley admitted that Democrats don't currently have the votes to save the Affordable Care Act.
"The factor right now is we have to hear from the grassroots across America," Merkley told reporters. "The senate is nearly equally split. We need a few Republicans to join us and I think there are Republicans who care about providing healthcare for the children, for seniors, for working families. And we need them to hear from their constituents like we heard from ours today."
Wyden said he planned to work with Republican Rep. Greg Walden on localizing the ACA. As chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden could play a key role in repealing the law through the budget reconciliation process.
"Assuming there's a commitment to the coverage requirements of the ACA, the state can go off and do its own thing," Wyden said. "That is right up the alley of Republicans."
Merkley said he would focus on fighting in committee and fighting nominees who want to gut Medicare.
"But our effectiveness depends on grassroots Americans rising up and saying hell no," Merkley said.