Trump aides press Se­nate on health care

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Hope Yen of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Saleha Mohsin of Bloomberg News; by Laura King of Tri­bune News Ser­vice; and by Dino Gran­doni of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

WASH­ING­TON — The White House on Sun­day stepped up de­mands for re­vived con­gres­sional ef­forts on health care and sug­gested that sen­a­tors fur­ther de­lay their sum­mer break to pass leg­is­la­tion af­ter failed votes last week.

Aides said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is pre­pared in the com­ing days to end re­quired pay­ments to in­sur­ers un­der the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act as part of a bid to force the Se­nate to act.

“The pres­i­dent will not ac­cept those who said it’s, quote, ‘Time to move on,’” White House ad­viser Kellyanne Con­way said. Those were the words used by Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., af­ter the early Fri­day morn­ing de­feat of the GOP pro­posal.

Con­way said Trump was de­cid­ing whether to act on his threat to end cost-shar­ing re­duc­tion pay­ments, which are aimed at trim­ming outof-pocket costs for lower-in­come peo­ple. “He’s go­ing to make that de­ci­sion this week, and that’s a de­ci­sion that only he can make,” Con­way said.

For seven years, Repub­li­cans have promised that once they took power, they would scrap for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care over­haul and pass a re­place­ment. But that ef­fort has stalled, most re­cently in the Se­nate on Fri­day, and McCon­nell said it was time to fo­cus on other pol­icy mat­ters.

Repub­li­cans hold a 52-48 ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, where no Democrats voted for the GOP bill and three Repub­li­cans de­fected in the fi­nal vote Fri­day. One of the GOP de­fec­tors, Sen. John McCain, has since re­turned to Ari­zona for treat­ment for brain can­cer.

The pres­i­dent said Sat­ur­day that Se­nate Repub­li­cans “look like fools” af­ter the re­peal bill went down, and he made a re­newed call for the Se­nate to abol­ish a rule re­quir­ing 60 votes for some bills — though the health care mea­sure fell short even

though it needed only a 51-vote ma­jor­ity to pass.

Trump re­it­er­ated that po­si­tion in a Twit­ter post on Sun­day, say­ing, “Don’t give up Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors, the World is watch­ing: Re­peal & Re­place…and go to 51 votes.”

White House Bud­get Di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney, when asked Sun­day if no other leg­isla­tive busi­ness should be taken up un­til the Se­nate acts again on health care, re­sponded “yes.”

While the House has be­gun a five-week re­cess, the Se­nate is sched­uled to work two more weeks be­fore a sum­mer break. The Se­nate orig­i­nally had been sched­uled to be­gin the break at the end of this month, but McCon­nell de­layed it, cit­ing un­fin­ished busi­ness that in­cludes ad­dress­ing a back­log of ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial nom­i­na­tions ahead of a busy agenda in Septem­ber, when the Se­nate must pass a de­fense spend­ing bill and raise the gov­ern­ment’s bor­row­ing limit.

“In the White House’s view, they can’t move on in the Se­nate,” Mul­vaney said, re­fer­ring to health leg­is­la­tion. “They need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass some­thing.”

Repub­li­can Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina, Bill Cas­sidy of Louisiana and Dean Heller of Ne­vada met with Trump on Fri­day to dis­cuss a re­vised pro­posal. Gra­ham said in a state­ment that Trump had been “op­ti­mistic” about the trio’s plan.

Trump warned over the week­end that he would end fed­eral sub­si­dies for health care in­sur­ance for con­gres­sional mem­bers and the rest of the coun­try if the Se­nate doesn’t act soon.

The Af­ford­able Care Act re­quired mem­bers of Congress, along with their staff, to buy health care in­sur­ance through the on­line mar­kets cre­ated un­der the law. But the law­mak­ers and their staff mem­bers gen­er­ally make too much to qual­ify for sub­si­dies un­der the law meant for low-in­come Amer­i­cans. So Obama de­cided to let in­di­vid­ual con­gres­sional of­fices be counted as small busi­nesses, thereby al­low­ing mem­bers and their staff to qual­ify for the sub­si­dies.

“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 Sat­ur­day.

“I talked to the pres­i­dent at length about that ex­act is­sue yes­ter­day,” Mul­vaney said dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on CNN’s State of the Union. “What he’s say­ing is, look, if Oba­macare is hurt­ing peo­ple, and it is, then why shouldn’t it hurt in­sur­ance com­pa­nies and, more im­por­tantly per­haps for this dis­cus­sion, mem­bers of Congress?”

The sub­si­dies, to­tal­ing about $7 bil­lion a year, help re­duce de­ductibles and co­pay­ments for con­sumers with mod­est in­comes. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion used its rule-mak­ing au­thor­ity to set di­rect pay­ments to in­sur­ers to help off­set such costs. Trump in­her­ited the pay­ment struc­ture, but he also has the power to end it.

Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price said Sun­day that “no de­ci­sion’s been made” on whether to con­tinue the sub­si­dies but that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s job is “to fol­low the law of the land.”

The pay­ments are the sub­ject of a law­suit brought by House Repub­li­cans over whether the health law specif­i­cally in­cluded a con­gres­sional ap­pro­pri­a­tion for the money, as is re­quired un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion. Trump has

“The un­cer­tainty about whether that sub­sidy is go­ing to con­tinue from month to month is clearly con­tribut­ing to the desta­bi­liza­tion of the in­sur­ance mar­kets, and that’s one thing that Congress needs to end.”

— Sen. Su­san Collins, R-Maine

only guar­an­teed the pay­ments through July, which ends to­day.

Sen. Su­san Collins of Maine, one of the three Repub­li­can sen­a­tors who voted against the GOP health bill on Fri­day, said she’s trou­bled by Trump’s claims that the in­sur­ance pay­ments are a “bailout.” She said Trump’s threat to cut off pay­ments would not change her op­po­si­tion to the GOP health bill and stressed that cost-shar­ing pay­ments were crit­i­cal to make in­sur­ance more af­ford­able for low-in­come peo­ple.

“The un­cer­tainty about whether that sub­sidy is go­ing to con­tinue from month to month is clearly con­tribut­ing to the desta­bi­liza­tion of the in­sur­ance mar­kets, and that’s one thing that Congress needs to end,” said Collins, who wants law­mak­ers to ap­pro­pri­ate money for the pay­ments.

“I cer­tainly hope the ad­min­is­tra­tion does not do any­thing in the mean­time to has­ten that col­lapse,” she added.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said fur­ther ac­tion on health care should be done in a bi­par­ti­san man­ner and not be rushed.

“You can­not do ma­jor en­ti­tle­ment re­form sin­gle­hand­edly, and you wouldn’t do ma­jor leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tives sin­gle­hand­edly,” she said in Alaska.

Trump pre­vi­ously said the law that he and oth­ers call “Oba­macare” would col­lapse im­me­di­ately when­ever those pay­ments stop. He has indi­cated a de­sire to halt the sub­si­dies but so far has al­lowed them to con­tinue.

“Our goal … as well as the pres­i­dent’s goal, is to put in place a law, a sys­tem, that ac­tu­ally works for pa­tients,” Price said on Meet the Press. “You can’t do that un­der the cur­rent struc­ture.”

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