McCon­nell: Democrats weren’t prob­lem with health care bill

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Pres­i­dent Trump says Se­nate Repub­li­cans will look like “to­tal quit­ters” if they move on from plans to re­peal Oba­macare along party lines, but GOP lead­ers have al­ready nudged health care aside to move on to other parts of their agenda.

A key com­mit­tee said it will hold bi­par­ti­san hear­ings in Septem­ber, seek­ing com­mon ground, but there’s no im­me­di­ate path for­ward for any leg­is­la­tion af­ter GOP lead­ers were un­able to get their mem­bers on board even a slimmed-down re­peal ef­fort last week.

“It’s pretty ob­vi­ous that our prob­lem on health care was not the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Repub­li­cans,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell.

The Ken­tucky Repub­li­can was re­spond­ing to prod­ding from Mr. Trump, who re­cently told Se­nate Repub­li­cans to give re­peal an­other go be­fore mov­ing onto other items.

“Un­less the Repub­li­can Se­na­tors are to­tal quit­ters, Re­peal & Re­place is not dead! De­mand an­other vote be­fore vot­ing on any other bill!” Mr. Trump tweeted af­ter a trio of Repub­li­cans and every Demo­crat re­fused to pro­long the re­peal ef­fort.

Mr. McCon­nell left the door open to GOP ideas that sput­tered out last week, say­ing con­gres­sional score­keep­ers are still scrub­bing pro­pos­als from con­ser­va­tives and mod­er­ates that could peel off more votes from GOP hold­outs and pass with a sim­ple ma­jor­ity.

“There is still an op­por­tu­nity to do that,” he said.

But he’s ded­i­cated the first two weeks of Au­gust to con­firm­ing pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tions, then law­mak­ers flee Wash­ing­ton for their sum­mer va­ca­tion. When they re­turn in Septem­ber they’ll be fac­ing a debt limit de­bate, they’ll need to pass fund­ing bills to keep the gov­ern­ment open, and they have a self-im­posed fall dead­line for tax re­form.

Se­nate Health Com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Alexan­der said he will try to bring near-term sta­bil­ity to the wob­bly ex­changes when Congress re­turns. He sched­uled hear­ings in early Septem­ber to begin craft­ing leg­is­la­tion to back­stop the mar­kets.

Mr. Alexan­der said the hearing will ac­cept in­put from both par­ties and an ar­ray of stake­hold­ers, from state in­sur­ance com­mis­sion­ers to pa­tients to gover­nors.

Though Repub­li­cans would pre­fer to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare out­right, Mr. Alexan­der said it’s im­por­tant to prop up the mar­kets while that ef­fort is in limbo.

He fears that many Amer­i­cans who qual­ify for tax­payer-funded sub­si­dies will find zero op­tions on their Oba­macare ex­changes next year, while those who aren’t sub­si­dized will con­front sky­rock­et­ing rates, af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama’s pro­gram failed to at­tract enough young and healthy en­rollees in the early rounds.

“There are a num­ber of is­sues with the Amer­i­can health care sys­tem, but if your house is on fire you want to put out the fire,” Mr. Alexan­der said. “The fire in this case is the in­di­vid­ual health in­sur­ance mar­ket. Both Repub­li­cans and Democrats agree on this.”

Repub­li­can Sens. Bill Cas­sidy of Louisiana, Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina and Dean Heller of Ne­vada are pitch­ing an­other way for­ward: block-grant the fund­ing that states would nor­mally re­ceive un­der Oba­macare and ask­ing them to come up with their own plans.

The se­na­tors had “pro­duc­tive” meet­ings with White House of­fi­cials, but lead­er­ship hasn’t latched onto the plan so far.

The most im­me­di­ate test is for Mr. Trump, who will have to soon de­cide whether to make the next set of pay­ments for “cost-shar­ing re­duc­tions” that re­im­burse in­sur­ers who pick up low-in­come cus­tomers’ costs on Oba­macare’s ex­changes.

With­out the pay­ments, in­sur­ers say they will in­crease their pre­mi­ums by an av­er­age of 20 per­cent next year.

Mr. Trump has threat­ened to with­draw the pay­ments, hop­ing to force Democrats to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble on health care.

Democrats say those pay­ments must con­tinue, even though Congress has never ap­proved them. Mr. Obama paid them any­way, and lost a court bat­tle in which a judge ruled the pay­ments il­le­gal.

“You don’t hurt in­no­cent peo­ple, Mr. Pres­i­dent, when you lose po­lit­i­cally,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tues­day. “That is not pres­i­den­tial. That is not, frankly, what an adult does.”

Those sub­si­dies are the ob­ject of a le­gal fight, and a fed­eral ap­peals court en­sured Tues­day night that it would con­tinue.

The U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the Dis­trict of Columbia Cir­cuit al­lowed a group of Demo­cratic-led state gov­ern­ments to in­ter­vene in the case, over the ob­jec­tions of House Repub­li­cans.

A Dis­trict Court had agreed with the GOP law­mak­ers that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sub­si­dies were not au­tho­rized and thus il­le­gal. There was some fears that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Jus­tice Depart­ment would roll over in the case, but the ap­peals court let the states join the law­suit, say­ing they had “demon­strated the ap­pro­pri­ate­ness of their in­ter­ven­tion.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“It’s pretty ob­vi­ous that our prob­lem on health care was not the Democrats. We didn’t have 50 Repub­li­cans,” said Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, Ken­tucky Repub­li­can. The Repub­li­can health care bill col­lapsed last week due to op­po­si­tion within the GOP ranks.

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