Trump keep­ing Oba­macare cost-share

Pres­i­dent backs off border wall fund to help bud­get pass, avoid shut­down

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN ● Tom How­ell Jr. and Sally Per­sons contributed to this ar­ti­cle.

The White House told con­gres­sional lead­ers Wednesday that the ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue mak­ing Oba­macare cost-shar­ing pay­ments, elim­i­nat­ing the big­gest stick­ing point as law­mak­ers rush to pass a fi­nal 2017 spend­ing bill and avert a govern­ment shut­down loom­ing at the end of the week.

Democrats had wanted to in­clude the funds in the spend­ing bill, but Repub­li­cans had balked, say­ing they’d never been in­cluded be­fore — though Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had doled out the money any­way, in what a judge has ruled an il­le­gal ex­pense.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s prom­ise to con­tinue the pay­ments with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval pre­serves a GOP anti-Oba­macare law­suit, but still keeps the money flow­ing, which Democrats said was their most important goal.

“Our ma­jor con­cerns in these ne­go­ti­a­tions have been about fund­ing for the wall and un­cer­tainty about the [cost-shar­ing] pay­ments cru­cial to the sta­bil­ity of the mar­ket­places un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. We’ve now made progress on both of these fronts,” House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Mr. Trump agreed ear­lier this week to pull his de­mand that money for his wall be in­cluded in the spend­ing bill. That put pres­sure on Democrats to drop their in­sis­tence on Oba­macare fund­ing. But Mrs. Pelosi said a deal is still prov­ing elu­sive. “More progress needs to be made on some of our pri­or­i­ties, and we con­tinue to be concerned about poi­son-pill rid­ers that are still in this leg­is­la­tion,” she said. “Our ap­pro­pri­a­tors are work­ing in good faith to­ward a bi­par­ti­san pro­posal to keep govern­ment open.”

The govern­ment has been run­ning on stop­gap fund­ing since Oct. 1, or nearly seven months. Congress needs to pass a new bill by mid­night Friday or else the govern­ment will face a par­tial shut­down.

Oba­macare pay­ments emerged as a stum­bling block ear­lier this month af­ter Mr. Trump threat­ened to with­hold the money as a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic on the broader health care re­peal. Democrats de­manded cer­tainty in the money, say­ing the health mar­kets count on those pay­ments to make Oba­macare work.

House Repub­li­cans, how­ever, had chal­lenged the pay­ments as il­le­gal, say­ing Congress had specif­i­cally nixed the money. A fed­eral judge agreed with them, rul­ing Mr. Obama acted il­le­gally.

In­clud­ing the pay­ments in the new spend­ing bill could have in­val­i­dated that law­suit — though even some Repub­li­cans said it wasn’t fair to end the pay­ments now while the rest of Oba­macare is in­tact.

“A lot of us, my­self in­cluded, think those sub­si­dies ought to be con­tin­ued un­til we have an al­ter­na­tive. I think we owe that to the companies, I think you owe that to the peo­ple in the health care sys­tem,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can.

Hav­ing the White House agree to make the pay­ments was the mid­dle-ground so­lu­tion.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer said Wednesday morn­ing that there were still other stum­bling blocks, in­clud­ing fed­eral sup­port for a health fund for re­tired min­ers and money to bol­ster Puerto Rico’s strug­gling Med­i­caid sys­tem.

An even big­ger hur­dle, though, ap­pears to be the per­son­al­i­ties in­volved.

Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch Mc­Connell said Tuesday he’d been push­ing Mr. Schumer to ne­go­ti­ate di­rectly with the White House to try to get a bill done, but said the Demo­cratic leader was re­fus­ing even to talk to the pres­i­dent.

Mr. Schumer coun­tered that was be­cause he wasn’t go­ing to ne­go­ti­ate at all as long as Mr. Trump was seek­ing fund­ing for the border wall.

“Sen­a­tor Mc­Connell wanted me to ne­go­ti­ate the wall with Pres­i­dent Trump. I said to him two things: First, it’s not a ne­go­ti­a­tion. No wall. And sec­ond, I said, only you can per­suade him that he shouldn’t do the wall be­cause it’ll cause a govern­ment shut­down,” Mr. Schumer said.

And Mr. Trump him­self took to Twit­ter on Wednesday evening to blame the Democrats’ de­mands for the dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Democrats are try­ing to bail out in­sur­ance companies from dis­as­trous #Oba­maCare, and Puerto Rico with your tax dol­lars. Sad!” he wrote.

Democrats’ dis­dain for Mr. Trump bled over into the House as well, where Mrs. Pelosi met with White House Bud­get Direc­tor Mick Mul­vaney on Tuesday night, and then at­tacked him as an ob­struc­tion­ist a day later.

“Con­gress­man Mick Mul­vaney was a chief ar­chi­tect of the govern­ment shut­down in 2013. He not only voted to shut down govern­ment but voted against end­ing the shut­down. He also voted to de­fault on the full faith and credit of the United States,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

Democrats are con­fi­dent that if there is a govern­ment shut­down, the GOP would take the blame, em­bold­en­ing the mi­nor­ity party to press its de­mands.

But Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can, said Democrats are the ones an­gling for a shut­down, be­liev­ing it will en­er­gize their base.

“I think Chuck Schumer and the Democrats want a shut­down,” he con­tin­ued, “I think they’re try­ing to pro­voke a fight.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

De­spite Pres­i­dent Trump’s pledge that his ad­min­is­tra­tion will con­tinue mak­ing Oba­macare cost-shar­ing pay­ments, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (left) said there re­main pit­falls to pass­ing a bud­get, such as fed­eral sup­port for a health fund to cover re­tired min­ers and bol­ster­ing Puerto Rico’s Med­i­caid sys­tem.

While Pres­i­dent Trump said fund­ing for his de­sired border wall wouldn’t be part of bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions, House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi said that a fi­nal fis­cal deal with the Repub­li­cans re­mains elu­sive.

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