Trump plans to help Se­nate pass health care bill

GOP has few votes to spare

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER AND TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Pres­i­dent Trump may be called upon once again to de­liver sup­port for a Repub­li­can health care bill as the Se­nate an­gles for a vote next week.

For weeks, Mr. Trump has given Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky breath­ing room to write a bill, cheer­ing on the ef­fort from the side­lines. But with a floor show­down loom­ing, the pres­i­dent plans to ratchet up his in­volve­ment with the sorts of phone calls and tweets that helped get a bill through the House last month.

“I think it helps when he speaks to the specifics of what we’re try­ing to ac­com­plish here,” said Sen. Thom Til­lis, North Carolina Repub­li­can.

Se­nate Repub­li­cans have been writ­ing their bill in se­cret, but Mr. McCon­nell plans to re­lease a dis­cus­sion draft Thurs­day. Repub­li­can law­mak­ers are hop­ing for a bill that low­ers cus­tomers’ pre­mi­ums and chases fewer peo­ple out of the health care mar­kets than the House bill.

But Repub­li­cans will need near una­nim­ity to pass the bill, and re­sis­tance is strong among a siz­able chunk of Se­nate Repub­li­cans, who dis­like the process or the sub­stance of the leg­is­la­tion.

“I per­son­ally think that hold­ing a vote on this next week would def­i­nitely be rushed,” Sen. Ron John­son, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said on CNN. “I can’t imag­ine,

quite hon­estly, that I’d have the in­for­ma­tion to eval­u­ate and jus­tify a yes vote just within a week.”

He re­ceived a tacit re­buke from Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, who said Repub­li­cans will have no ex­cuses if they balk at their pri­mary chance for re­peal.

Repub­li­cans in­sist that Oba­macare is col­laps­ing and say they are on what amounts to a res­cue mis­sion. They say the choice is be­tween their so­lu­tion and a dis­as­ter.

The Af­ford­able Care Act’s woes deep­ened Wed­nes­day as in­surer An­them said it was largely ex­it­ing Wis­con­sin and In­di­ana.

“This law has failed our state,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can.

He har­nessed Mr. Trump and other top ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials this year to bridge gaps among House Repub­li­cans and de­liver pas­sage of a plan that would lower costs for younger, health­ier Amer­i­cans — though it would free in­sur­ers to raise costs for those ap­proach­ing Medi­care el­i­gi­bil­ity, and would leave tens of mil­lions fewer peo­ple in­sured within a decade, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice.

Mr. Trump has been in­creas­ing his ef­forts on the Se­nate side in re­cent days. Last week, he hosted more than a dozen Se­nate Repub­li­cans at the White House to build unity ahead of the bill’s un­veil­ing.

The White House launched a web­page to en­cour­age Oba­macare re­peal, and the ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­ployed Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price to high­light the ris­ing rates and de­clin­ing choices in Oba­macare’s ex­changes.

“It is clear that Oba­macare needs to be fixed, and that is what we are fo­cus­ing on. Our team here is work­ing with Se­nate lead­er­ship to sup­port them as they work though propos­ing a bill that will work for all Amer­i­cans,” said White House deputy press sec­re­tary Lind­say Wal­ters.

At a rally in Iowa on Wed­nes­day, Mr. Trump said pass­ing a re­peal bill is achiev­able, even if it’s an up­hill strug­gle.

“We have a very slim, 52-48 [ma­jor­ity.] That means we ba­si­cally can’t lose any­body,” Mr. Trump said. “I think and I hope — I can’t guar­an­tee any­thing — but I hope we’re go­ing to sur­prise you with a re­ally good plan.”

He also took credit for urg­ing sen­a­tors to rein­vest fed­eral sav­ings into from the House bill into the Se­nate plan, say­ing he wants a bill with “heart.”

Ear­lier Wed­nes­day, se­nior White House of­fi­cials at­tended an HHS lis­ten­ing ses­sion with health care con­sumers, in­clud­ing re­tirees, busi­ness own­ers, doc­tors and in­sur­ance agents.

Kellyanne Conway, coun­selor to the pres­i­dent, told the gath­er­ing that re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Oba­macare was not just a cam­paign prom­ise, but “an im­per­a­tive” for the pres­i­dent.

Yet the head­winds are grow­ing. A Politico-Morn­ing Con­sult poll re­leased Wed­nes­day said op­po­si­tion to the Repub­li­can health care plan has dou­bled from 15 per­cent to 30 per­cent among Repub­li­can vot­ers since late April, shortly be­fore the House passed its ver­sion.

Democrats are call­ing on Repub­li­cans to help sink the bill next week. Just a few de­fec­tions from the 52-seat Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity could doom the re­peal ef­fort.

“If three of them will step up and say this is wrong … then we can roll up our sleeves and do the right thing for Amer­ica,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat.

Among the items con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can law­mak­ers will be look­ing for in the draft bill is a pro­vi­sion to gut as many of Oba­macare’s stric­tures as pos­si­ble. Mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans, mean­while, are look­ing for a grad­ual phase­out of Oba­macare’s vast ex­pan­sion of Med­i­caid, hop­ing to shield states from a ma­jor fund­ing cliff.

Some thorny so­cial is­sues are also rear­ing their heads.

Mr. Til­lis said drafters are re­search­ing ways to ban con­sumers from us­ing re­fund­able tax cred­its of­fered in the plan to pay for abor­tions. The House ver­sion con­tained a pro­hi­bi­tion, but the Se­nate par­lia­men­tar­ian is likely to rule that it flouts the bud­get rules that gov­ern the de­bate.

Bar­ring the use of tax­payer as­sis­tance for abor­tion is key for con­ser­va­tives, who say the over­all plan al­ready is fall­ing short of ex­pec­ta­tions.

Democrats, mean­while, are ratch­et­ing up their re­sis­tance, hop­ing to ap­ply enough eleventh-hour pres­sure to sink the Repub­li­can ef­fort.

Sen. Bernard San­ders, Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent, told pro­gres­sive demon­stra­tors on Capi­tol Hill on Wed­nes­day “to rally the Amer­i­can peo­ple, to tell the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, ‘Yes, let us im­prove Oba­macare, but we’re not go­ing to de­stroy it.’”

Democrats say Med­i­caid cuts in the Repub­li­can plan will be dev­as­tat­ing and that Oba­macare’s strug­gling ex­changes can be sal­vaged with more fed­eral spend­ing to beef up sub­si­dies and back­stop in­sur­ers’ losses.

De­spite the wide­spread ex­o­dus of in­sur­ers from the pro­gram, an on­line startup called Os­car an­nounced Wed­nes­day that it would ex­pand next year into five states: Ohio, Texas, New Jersey, Ten­nessee and Cal­i­for­nia. It will also con­tinue to sell prod­ucts in New York.

Their de­ci­sion to ex­pand fol­lows a move by Cen­tene Corp. to ex­pand into Kansas, Mis­souri and Ne­vada next year and reach fur­ther into Flor­ida, Ge­or­gia, In­di­ana, Ohio, Texas, and Wash­ing­ton.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said the Af­ford­able Care Act has failed his home state of Wis­con­sin af­ter in­surer An­them said Wed­nes­day it was ex­it­ing.

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