Bad blood in GOP over healthcare
Trump wants repeal efforts kept alive. Senators worry about Obamacare subsidies.
WASHINGTON — A pair of prominent lawmakers urged President Trump on Sunday not to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, in the wake of failed Republican efforts to scrap his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement.
But Trump urged GOP senators to try again to push through some version of repealing and replacing the law, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week that it was time to move on to other matters.
Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said the president would decide in coming days whether to block subsidies that are a crucial component of the existing healthcare law.
“He’s going to make that decision this week, and that’s a decision that only he can make,” Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Two of the lawmakers who blocked the Senate Republican repeal plan last week criticized the administration’s continued efforts to overturn the law.
Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine Republican who steadfastly rejected a series of GOP healthcare measures last week, blamed the Trump administration for encouraging instability in the insurance markets by continuing the uncertainty over whether the subsidies — cost-sharing payments that reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs for poorer Americans — would continue.
“I’m troubled by the uncertainty that has been created by the administration,” Collins said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” She contested Trump’s characterization of the payments as an “insurance company bailout.”
“That’s not what it is,” she said, calling the reduction payments “vital assistance” to low-income Americans.
And Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said further action on healthcare should be done in a bipartisan manner and not rushed.
“You cannot do major entitlement reform single-handedly, and you wouldn’t do major legislative initiatives single-handedly,” she told reporters in Alaska.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (IVt.) echoed Collins’ criticism of Trump’s threat to stop making the cost-sharing payments.
“You know, I really think it’s incomprehensible that we have a president of the United States who wants to sabotage healthcare in America, make life more difficult for millions of people who are struggling now to get the health insurance they need and to pay for that health insurance,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Before heading out for a day at his Virginia golf property, Trump tweeted that Republican senators should press ahead with efforts to scrap Obamacare — a day after he tauntingly exhorted them not to be “quitters” in the quest for a legislative victory for him.
The White House budget director, Mick Mulvaney, on “State of the Union,” said it was official Trump administration policy that the Senate should keep working to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, eschewing an August recess if necessary.
Senators, he said, “need to stay, they need to work — they need to pass something.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, while acknowledging a responsibility to “follow the law,” also signaled that Trump was not accepting defeat in efforts to get rid of Obamacare.
“Our goal ... as well as the president’s goal, is to put in place a law, a system, that actually works for patients,” he said on “Meet the Press,” adding, “You can’t do that under the current structure.”
Frustrated by the failure of the Obamacare repeal in the Senate, Trump on Saturday had threatened to end federal subsidies for healthcare insurance — for Congress as well as the rest of the country.
“If a new HealthCare bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Trump tweeted, fuming about Congress’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which he said was “imploding.”
Such a move could cause havoc and much higher premiums in insurance markets, since many low- and moderate-income people depend on those subsidies to help cover the cost of their policies. Through a series of administrative maneuvers by Congress and the Obama administration, members and their staffs also benefit from those subsidies.
Targeting congressional healthcare might score Trump some populist points with his base, but it would probably come at a cost of poisoning his relationship with Congress. Just making the threat highlights how far things have eroded between Trump and top Republican lawmakers. And it came a day after Trump pushed out former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, an establishment Republican who was the GOP congressional leadership’s trusted liaison in the White House.
Trump’s long-standing threat to let the health insurance plans fail would come with its own political price. The federal government sends about $600 million a month to insurance companies to help cover the cost, and Trump is threatening to cut that off to allow Obamacare markets to collapse.
His goal is to pressure Congress to send him a repeal bill, but so far the strategy has failed. The confidence Trump has expressed that if he followed through with the threat the fallout would land not on him but on Democrats, because they created Obamacare, is not widely shared in Washington.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-Alaska) said healthcare negotiations should be bipartisan and not rushed.