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Progressives blame Schumer, Pelosi for giving a GOP health care bill new life

Frustration with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill is surfacing as progressive activists and health care groups supportive of Obamacare work -- again -- to beat back the latest Republican health care bill.

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Eric BradnerGregory Krieg
Phil Mattingly (CNN)

Frustration with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill is surfacing as progressive activists and health care groups supportive of Obamacare work -- again -- to beat back the latest Republican health care bill.

GOP Senate leaders are trying to cobble together 51 votes for legislation drafted by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. The bill's momentum came so suddenly that the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune, called Cassidy "the grave robber" because "this thing was six feet under."

Still, some on the left say that by cutting a deal with President Donald Trump early this month to remove hurricane relief, the debt ceiling and government funding from lawmakers' to-do list before September 30, they opened the door for a third major Republican health care push.

"We do think that Democrats made this a little easier for them," said Angel Padilla, policy director for The Indivisible Project. "The moment when we changed gears is when they made that deal."

"I remember the first thing we said here was, 'Oh my god, they're bringing back health care.' If not for that deal, right now what we would be talking about would be the debt ceiling and the (continuing resolution to fund the government). Congress has trouble passing these things and they always wait for the last minute, and that's what we would be doing right now. But those were taken off the table and now we have this bill," Padilla said. "Schumer and Pelosi should have waited until after September 30 to start cutting deals."

Padilla also criticized Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for introducing a single-payer "Medicare for all" health care bill -- which progressives largely support -- last week. "It wouldn't have hurt us to wait a few weeks until health care was behind us before rolling out that bill," he said.

Looming over the health care battle is a September 30 deadline. If Republicans seek to repeal Obamacare after that date, they'd need 60 votes, rather than the 51 currently required under budget reconciliation rules.

Schumer, D-New York, said Democrats and left-leaning groups didn't see the Graham-Cassidy bill gaining momentum until recently.

"A week ago no one saw -- you know, this hadn't even raised its ugly head. But now the groups are really mobilized," Schumer said.

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He predicted a massive lobbying effort against the bill from the AARP and hospital and nurses' groups."

"They realize this bill is even worse than the last one, so I think this weekend you are going to see huge mobilizations," he said.

Some Democratic activists had warned reporters and lawmakers that the Graham-Cassidy bill should not be ignored.

Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org's Washington director, said the anti-Trump resistance is used to "zombie" health care bills at this point.

"The millions of people who've been engaged over the past nine months are ready to throw themselves back into the battle and we're moving all of our chips into knocking this beast back down," he said.

Democrats are hitting the airwaves to increase pressure on senators viewed as potential "no" votes, too.

The pro-Obamacare group Save My Care, a hub for much of the Democratic activity on health care, is back on the air in five states.

WHIP LIST: How Republicans say they'll vote on the Graham-Cassidy health care bill

Its ads launched on Monday targeting Arizona Sen. John McCain and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. On Tuesday, more ads targeting West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Colllins began airing.

The ads in Alaska and Maine thank Murkowski and Collins for voting against the last GOP Obamacare repeal effort and urges them to "stand strong" against "yet another repeal bill, but with the same devastating impact."

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