Trump makes calls to sen­a­tors in health care bill push

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Hope Yen and Michele Sal­cedo of The As­so­ci­ated Press and by Ed O’Keefe, David Weigel, John Wag­ner and Karoun Demir­jian of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Donald Trump spent the week­end call­ing sen­a­tors to urge them to get their health care bill “across the fin­ish line,” Trump’s top leg­isla­tive aide said Sun­day.

Marc Short, the White House’s leg­isla­tive di­rec­tor, said on Fox News Sun­day that while Trump prefers that the Se­nate re­peal and re­place for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law, the re­peal-only op­tion also re­mains in play.

Trump on Fri­day tweeted the sug­ges­tion of re­peal­ing the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act right away and re­plac­ing it later. Democrats are united in op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal to re­peal and re­place the law, mean­ing that Repub­li­cans can only lose two votes in their 52-48 Se­nate ma­jor­ity.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., has dis­missed the re­peal-only sug­ges­tion and said he in­tended to pro­ceed with leg­is­la­tion be­ing ne­go­ti­ated over the July 4 re­cess. Con­ser­va­tives say the Se­nate bill does not go far enough to re­peal the Obama-era law, while mod­er­ates say the bill is too

harsh in in­creas­ing pre­mi­ums for older Amer­i­cans.

“It’s not easy mak­ing Amer­ica great again, is it?” McCon­nell said late Fri­day. He has pre­vi­ously in­di­cated that if Repub­li­cans fail to reach agree­ment, he will have to ne­go­ti­ate with Democrats, who want to amend Obama’s health care law with­out re­peal­ing it.

But Short said Trump is de­ter­mined to re­peal the law and the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­lieves the GOP leg­is­la­tion “will help to lower pre­mium costs, help pro­vide bet­ter qual­ity care for pa­tients and re­turn the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pa­tient and his or her doc­tor with­out the gov­ern­ment be­ing in the mid­dle.”

“We hope when we come back, the week af­ter re­cess, we’ll have a vote,” Short said. But he added: “If the replacement part is too dif­fi­cult for Repub­li­cans to get to­gether, then let’s go back and take care of the first step of re­peal.”

Short said the White House re­mained hope­ful af­ter Se­nate Repub­li­cans sub­mit­ted two ver­sions of the bill to the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice for scor­ing over the week­long re­cess. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is push­ing a con­ser­va­tive ver­sion that aims to ag­gres­sively re­duce costs by giv­ing states greater flex­i­bil­ity to cre­ate sep­a­rate higher-risk pools. The other ver­sion seeks to bol­ster health care sub­si­dies for lower-in­come peo­ple, per­haps by pre­serv­ing a tax boost on high earn­ers.

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price said ne­go­ti­a­tions over the Se­nate bill were fo­cus­ing on ways to ad­dress the is­sue of Med­i­caid cov­er­age so that “no­body falls through the cracks,” fight­ing the opi­oid ad­dic­tion cri­sis, as well as giv­ing fam­i­lies more choices in se­lect­ing their in­sur­ance plan.

“We think that Leader McCon­nell and his sen­a­tors within the Se­nate are work­ing to try to get this piece of leg­is­la­tion on track,” Price said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he didn’t think a bill to re­peal and re­place the law could win 50 votes. He has been urg­ing McCon­nell to con­sider a re­peal-only bill first.

“I don’t think we’re get­ting any­where with the bill we have. We’re at an im­passe,” Paul said on Fox News Sun­day.

He crit­i­cized Se­nate lead­ers, say­ing they were seek­ing to win over mod­er­ates with multi­bil­lion-dol­lar pro­pos­als to ad­dress the opi­oid epi­demic and boost tax sub­si­dies to help lower-in­come peo­ple get cov­er­age.

“We have nearly $200 bil­lion in in­sur­ance bailouts,” Paul said. “Does any­body re­mem­ber us com­plain­ing that Oba­macare had in­sur­ance bailouts? We now have cod­i­fied nearly $200 bil­lion. There’s $45 bil­lion in here for opi­oids. The bill is just be­ing lit up like a Christ­mas tree full of bil­lion-dol­lar or­na­ments, and it’s not re­peal. We don’t re­peal the reg­u­la­tions. We don’t re­peal the sub­si­dies.”

DIS­PUTES OVER ADD-ONS

Gov. John Ka­sich, R-Ohio, took the op­po­site stance on the $45 bil­lion pro­posal to fight opi­oid abuse.

“It’s like spit­ting in the ocean,” Ka­sich said on ABC’s This Week. “It’s not enough.”

The governor said that if the law was go­ing to al­lot $45 bil­lion over 10 years, it would work out for Ohio to less than $1 bil­lion over 10 years.

But Ka­sich stressed Sun­day that “it’s not just Med­i­caid and the fact that there’s not enough money in Med­i­caid le­git­i­mately to treat peo­ple” that has prompted his op­po­si­tion to the bill.

“It’s the whole thing,” he said. “It’s the en­tire pack­age, which I be­lieve can and should be fixed.”

If the Af­ford­able Care Act ex­changes are col­laps­ing, he said, “you can’t also give peo­ple three or four thou­sand dol­lars a year and think they can buy an in­sur­ance pol­icy.”

“What kind of in­sur­ance pol­icy can you buy at three or four thou­sand dol­lars a year?” Ka­sich asked.

Ka­sich said both par­ties were fo­cused on pro­mot­ing their own agen­das and not on work­ing to im­prove the coun­try.

“Right now, they don’t want to con­cede any­thing,” he said. “Right now, they’re not ready, they are not ready to sit down and put the na­tion first, in my opinion.”

Price said Amer­i­cans were ready to fo­cus on health care, and crit­i­cized Meet the Press mod­er­a­tor Chuck Todd for ask­ing him about Trump’s Twit­ter use.

“Chuck, you know, this is re­ally re­mark­able,” Price said. “You’ve got in­cred­i­ble chal­lenges across this na­tion, in­cred­i­ble chal­lenges around the world. The chal­lenge that I’ve been given is to ad­dress the health care is­sues. And your pro­gram, a pro­gram with the in­cred­i­ble his­tory of ‘Meet the Press,’ and that’s what you want to talk about?”

“Mr. Sec­re­tary, I don’t,” Todd said. “With all due re­spect, you’re blam­ing me for what the pres­i­dent of the United States has spent his en­tire week fo­cused on?”

“No. Lis­ten to me, with all due re­spect,” Price re­sponded. “The Amer­i­can peo­ple are con­cerned about a health care sys­tem that is not pro­vid­ing choices, where pre­mi­ums are go­ing up, where in­sur­ance com­pa­nies are va­cat­ing mar­kets all across this land. And that’s what they want us to con­cen­trate on. And that’s what they want us to fix. And that’s what I and the pres­i­dent are work­ing on.”

Price said Trump was not dis­tracted by me­dia feuds or other top­ics.

“The pres­i­dent’s held mul­ti­ple meet­ings within the White House it­self, with physi­cians, with small-busi­ness groups, with other folks who have been harmed by Oba­macare, with pa­tients, in­di­vid­ual stake­hold­ers from across this land who tell him and have told us re­peat­edly that the cur­rent sys­tem is col­laps­ing,” Price said. “And that’s what the pres­i­dent talks about.”

CBO-SCORE AF­TER­MATH

Price also ex­pressed frus­tra­tion at me­dia cov­er­age of the pro­jec­tions of McCon­nell’s draft bill by the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice, which es­ti­mates that it would lead to 22 mil­lion fewer peo­ple be­ing unin­sured within a decade — 1 mil­lion fewer than un­der the House-passed leg­is­la­tion that Trump pri­vately told sen­a­tors was “mean.”

“That’s pre­cisely be­cause the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice and all of these analy­ses don’t look at the en­tire plan,” Price said. “If you look at it in its to­tal­ity, and no­body’s look­ing at it in its to­tal­ity, we will bring down pre­mi­ums. We will in­crease cov­er­age. We will in­crease choices. And I be­lieve we will in­crease the qual­ity of care pro­vided in this na­tion.”

At least nine GOP sen­a­tors ex­pressed op­po­si­tion af­ter the anal­y­sis last week.

Democrats who crit­i­cized the bill af­ter the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice anal­y­sis in­cluded Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

“CBO con­firms this thing is a %#$@ sand­wich,” he tweeted, adding later that Democrats’ fight against the leg­is­la­tion “is a test of the moral­ity of our coun­try. We have to win this one.”

Schatz later ad­mit­ted that de­spite dol­ing out ad­vice on how pro­gres­sives should pres­sure Repub­li­cans dur­ing the re­cess, he hadn’t de­ter­mined what he will do. Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer and House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have urged Democrats to hold news con­fer­ences, ral­lies with pro­gres­sive groups and sub­mit opinion columns to news­pa­pers.

Schatz said that’s not good enough.

“You can’t fill a cal­en­dar and think that’s a plan,” he ex­plained, mean­ing that he will avoid a strat­egy that dic­tates, “I’m go­ing to use Face­book on Tues­day and use Twit­ter on Wed­nes­day and then I’m go­ing to send an op-ed in and hold a news con­fer­ence on Fri­day.

“It’s a pretty chaotic en­vi­ron­ment out there,” he said. “We need to be a lit­tle more flex­i­ble.”

PRES­SURE BACK HOME

Schatz and other law­mak­ers re­turned to their home districts late last week, brac­ing for a flood of phone calls, emails and tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing from both con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral groups aimed at pres­sur­ing sen­a­tors.

Sen. Bill Cas­sidy, R-La., held a town hall meet­ing Fri­day to talk about flood re­cov­ery in Ba­ton Rouge, but au­di­ence mem­bers an­gry over the GOP health care bill at times chanted over Cas­sidy’s an­swers and crit­i­cized the se­cre­tive leg­isla­tive process.

“I wish we weren’t do­ing it one party,” Cas­sidy said Sun­day on NBC’s Meet the Press, adding that he re­mains un­de­cided on how he will vote.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has said he would like to see a bill that would re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act “with a de­lay.”

“If we can do a com­bined re­peal and re­place over the next week, that’s great,” Sasse said on CNN’s State of the Union. “If we can’t, though, then there’s no rea­son to walk away.”

“I would want a de­lay, so that we could get straight to work. And then I think the pres­i­dent should call on the Se­nate to can­cel our Au­gust” re­cess, Sasse said.

Lib­eral groups were us­ing the con­gres­sional re­cess to build op­po­si­tion to the Se­nate bill. They be­lieve tens of thou­sands of phone calls, emails and in-per­son pushes will force sen­a­tors to re­ject the leg­is­la­tion.

The fresh ac­tivism is com­ing with en­cour­age­ment from Democrats who find them­selves in the mi­nor­ity in all three branches of gov­ern­ment.

“Six months ago, ev­ery­one in that build­ing thought that re­peal of the Af­ford­able Care Act was a done deal,” said Ben Wik­ler, the Wash­ing­ton di­rec­tor of MoveOn.org, point­ing to the Capi­tol. Since then, he said, Democrats had learned to take some cues from the “re­sis­tance.”

“Democrats can see with their eyes where the en­ergy is in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics right now,” Wik­ler said. “It’s to aban­don pol­i­tics as usual and put up a bare-fisted fight. That’s re­ally sink­ing in.”

On the Web

Compare House, Se­nate bills, Af­ford­able Care Act nwadg.com/ health­care

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