Trump wants 2nd try at Oba­macare re­peal

Pres­i­dent: ‘We con­tinue to ne­go­ti­ate’

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR. David Sherfinski con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Pres­i­dent Trump said Wed­nes­day he still wants to tackle health care be­fore mov­ing on to tax re­form, a shift that raises the stakes for con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans strug­gling to pin down an Oba­macare re­place­ment and un­tan­gle a web of fis­cal dead­lines.

Af­ter the col­lapse last month of the first GOP bid to re­peal Oba­macare, Mr. Trump said he was done with the thorny is­sue and was in­stead ready to pass his­toric tax cuts.

But he’s now come back to con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans’ stance, which is that the sav­ings from re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare will al­low for deeper tax cuts.

“Health care’s go­ing to hap­pen at some point,” Mr. Trump said in an in­ter­view on Fox Busi­ness Network. “Now, if it doesn’t hap­pen fast enough, I’ll start the taxes. But the tax re­form and the tax cuts are bet­ter if I can do health care first.”

His bud­get di­rec­tor, Mick Mul­vaney, echoed his com­ments in sep­a­rate in­ter­views with cable net­works.

Their prod­ding re­flects grow­ing con­cern about leg­isla­tive pile-up con­fronting Repub­li­cans, who have yet to notch any ma­jor wins from Capi­tol Hill this year.

“They have to make it work, be­cause their stand­ing in the House is in jeop­ardy, and Trump’s stand­ing to do things af­ter the midterms is as well,” GOP strate­gist Ford O’Con­nell said.

Due up as soon as Congress re­turns from a two-week spring break is a funding bill to keep the gov­ern­ment open be­yond April 28.

Repub­li­cans are also try­ing to bridge a rift on health care be­tween con­ser­va­tives, who want a di­rect as­sault on Oba­macare, and cen­trists who are leery about un­wind­ing Oba­macare’s con­sumer pro­tec­tions and cov­er­age gains. The split forced GOP lead­ers to pull an ini­tial health care bill mo­ments be­fore it hit the floor last month.

“We haven’t failed. We’re ne­go­ti­at­ing, and we con­tinue to ne­go­ti­ate,” Mr. Trump said.

GOP lead­ers said Mr. Trump has got it right.

“Speaker Ryan has con­sis­tently noted the ben­e­fits of do­ing health care re­form be­fore tax re­form,” said AshLee Strong, a spokes­woman for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. “Health care dis­cus­sions con­tinue as we try to craft a plan that can garner 216 votes.”

Repub­li­cans fig­ured they’d be toast­ing vic­tory on Oba­macare by now, and would be well on their way to craft­ing a 2018 bud­get that would pave the way for the tax code over­haul.

In­stead, they’re still strug­gling to plug the gaps on their health care bill, with GOP lead­ers in­tro­duc­ing a new leg­isla­tive patch late last week.

Mr. Trump in­sists there’s been move­ment, as con­ser­va­tives pitch a plan to let states seek a waiver from Oba­macare reg­u­la­tions, free­ing health­ier peo­ple to pay less while try­ing to post bil­lions to sup­port sicker cus­tomers who could be priced out of the mar­ket. Lead­ers haven’t pro­duced leg­isla­tive text or sig­naled they’re ready to vote, how­ever.

“I think we’re do­ing very well on health care,” Mr. Trump said. “It’s been very much mis­re­ported that we failed with health care.”

GOP sources freely ad­mit­ted Wed­nes­day they will miss the April 15 dead­line for writ­ing the 2018 bud­get, yet noted that Congress can work on pieces of it even with­out hav­ing a fi­nal doc­u­ment ap­proved.

“It’s a com­plete mess of their own mak­ing,” said Drew Ham­mill, spokesman for House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Pres­i­dent Trump and Repub­li­cans need to stop howl­ing at the moon over the Af­ford­able Care Act and work with Democrats to keep gov­ern­ment open and fol­low the reg­u­lar or­der of the House.”

Demo­cratic lead­ers also faulted Mr. Trump for leav­ing in­sur­ers and their cus­tomers on ten­ter­hooks re­gard­ing Oba­macare pay­ments that are crit­i­cal to the sta­bil­ity of the in­sur­ance mar­ket, as Repub­li­cans strug­gle to plot out their next steps.

House Repub­li­cans had won a rul­ing last year that Pres­i­dent Obama was break­ing the law by mak­ing the “cost­shar­ing pay­ments” to in­sur­ance com­pa­nies, which help low-in­come cus­tomers with de­ductibles and other out-of-pocket costs, even though Congress had specif­i­cally can­celed that money.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could eas­ily drop Mr. Obama’s ap­peal of the rul­ing, but the White House and Repub­li­cans now re­al­ize they may have to keep the pay­ments flow­ing un­til they fig­ure out how to get rid of Oba­macare and dis­pose of the suit.

Health groups, in­clud­ing the na­tion’s lead­ing in­sur­ers’ lobby, told Mr. Trump in a Wed­nes­day let­ter they need to know whether the pay­ments will be guar­an­teed through the end of next year so they can price their plans and de­cide whether to par­tic­i­pate in Oba­macare’s ex­changes at all.

Yet Mr. Trump de­clined to tell The Wall Street Jour­nal whether Congress should ap­pro­pri­ate the funding or end the pay­ments by drop­ping the ap­peal.

“It’s ac­tu­ally a big story that a lot of peo­ple don’t know about. They’ll find out about it, per­haps,” Mr. Trump told the news­pa­per.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer said Mr. Trump was flirt­ing with dis­as­ter to gain the po­lit­i­cal up­per hand in the health care de­bate.

“Pres­i­dent Trump is threat­en­ing to hold hostage health care for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, many of whom voted for him, to achieve a po­lit­i­cal goal of re­peal that would take health care away from mil­lions more,” the New York Demo­crat said. “This cyn­i­cal strat­egy will fail.”

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