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Lincoln woman joins D.C. health care protest and gets arrested

LINCOLN — Lincoln resident Mari Cordes on Thursday returned from a whirlwind, three-day trip to Washington, D.C., that included wading through bustling airports, bunking down at a hostel and getting arrested.
While that might seem like a nightmare scenario for most people, Cordes pronounced the trip a rousing success.
That’s because Cordes — a longtime nurse and activist — was on a joint mission with other like-minded folks to raise awareness about the U.S. Senate Republicans’ “Better Care Reconciliation Act” (BCRA) — legislation she believes would deal a major health insurance setback to a vast majority of Americans if it is passed into law this summer.
“In my mind, it is one of the biggest frauds presented to the American people — ever,” Cordes said of the bill on Thursday afternoon, soon after her return flight had touched down at Burlington International Airport.
Cordes, who ran for an Addison-4 House seat last year on the Democratic and Progressive ballots, has gained a statewide reputation for her advocacy for labor and health care issues. She helped create the Equal Care Coalition, which advocates for the elimination of health insurance policy exclusions for transgender patients. Cordes often has delivered testimony at the Vermont Statehouse on behalf of the UVM Medical Center’s nurses’ union on such issues as health care reform, paid sick days, and safe hospital staffing levels for patient care.
So when the Center for Popular Democracy asked her to join a protest of the BCRA in nation’s capital, she accepted without hesitation. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the BCRA would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026. The legislation would also eliminate the current 3.8-percent hike in the tax rate on investment income, as reflected in the Affordable Care Act. That provision would only benefit the nation’s higher income earners, critics of the BCRA contend.
Recent national polls have shown a less than 20-percent favorability rating for the BCRA. Its Republican sponsors last week decided to postpone a vote until after the July 4 Congressional recess when it became clear there were not enough votes to pass it.
“A huge majority of Americans do not want this bill,” Cordes said.
Cordes and dozens of other protestors sought to reinforce that point on Wednesday, June 28, during an act of civil disobedience at the Russell Senate Office Building in D.C., which is headquarters to many U.S. senators. Cordes and her fellow protestors were asked to enter the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at around 12:30 p.m. that day to deliver a message against the BCRA.
“Many of the senators are hiding from their constituents,” Cordes said. “(The bill) was drafted behind closed doors.”
Rubio was not in his office at the time, so the group spoke with some of his staffers. Four designated protestors — including Cordes — recited their personal views about the BCRA and its potential impacts. The assembled crowd repeated each speaker’s words of criticism.
When they had finished their speeches, the protestors began chanting and eventually sat down in the hall with their arms locked. Rubio’s staff had summoned the Capitol Police, who had a busy day on Wednesday. The protest had affected several other senators’ offices, including that of Susan Collins, R-Maine.
“The police where methodical, but kind,” Cordes said, noting she and seven of her colleagues were given three warnings before authorities zip-tied their hands behind their backs and escorted them to the Capitol Police headquarters for processing. She said she spent around four hours in a jail cell.
It was Cordes’ first time being arrested. She paid her $50 fine for “crowding, obstructing and incommoding.” She said she will probably not have to return to Washington to answer to any of the charges.
Cordes was happy to have made the trip, which included a special bonus: She met former Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, who she said took the same flight down to Washington.
“I told him what we were up to, and took a picture with him,” she said.
Cordes said this will probably not be the last time she engages in civil disobedience on health care issues.
“I will do it again, and maybe soon,” she said.
In the meantime, she is urging people to call their senators and urge them to vote against the BCRA.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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