Se­nate GOP wary of re­vived bat­tle over health care

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY LISA MASCARO AND CATHER­INE LUCEY

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­ci­sion to re­vive the fight over the Af­ford­able Care Act has stirred a po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy de­bate among Repub­li­cans on how best to ap­proach the di­vi­sive is­sue head­ing into the 2020 election.

Fail­ing to re­peal and re­place the ACA, also known as Oba­macare, is one of the big­gest short­com­ings of the pres­i­dent’s first term. It left Repub­li­cans with a bro­ken campaign prom­ise, dis­mal ap­proval rat­ings and a nar­ra­tive they haven’t been able to shake – that they don’t sup­port pro­tect­ing those with pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions from high-cost care. In some races, it cost Repub­li­can seats last fall, flip­ping House con­trol to Democrats.

For Trump, the re­set he wants is clear. “The Repub­li­can Party will soon be known as the party of health care,” he said on Capi­tol Hill. “You watch!”

But among Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, there’s re­luc­tance to em­brace Trump’s new pri­or­ity. Usu­ally tightlipped Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, who was given lit­tle ad­vance no­tice of the pres­i­dent’s new push, spoke vol­umes when asked about it.

“I look for­ward to see­ing what the pres­i­dent is propos­ing,” McCon­nell told Politico.

And in the House, it’s a mixed bag. Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy ini­tially panned Trump’s move, ques­tion­ing the tim­ing that col­lided with Trump’s bounce from the end of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 election. But the GOP leader does see value in kick-start­ing a health care de­bate, said a per­son granted anonymity to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion. House Repub­li­cans con­tinue to be asked about it back home and a new GOP health care bill could im­prove their stand­ing with vot­ers, the per­son said.

What’s un­clear is whether a Trump-Care bill will emerge from the White House or Capi­tol Hill to re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act or if the pres­i­dent’s push for a pol­icy out­come fades to lit­tle more than a topic for the campaign trail.

Trump dis­cussed health care at length dur­ing a rally in Michi­gan Thurs­day and again dur­ing an ap­pear­ance in Florida Fri­day.

“We are go­ing to have a plan that’s so much bet­ter than Oba­macare,” the pres­i­dent promised af­ter tour­ing an ag­ing dike in South Florida.

For Trump, re­turn­ing to health care shows his com­mit­ment to a 2016 campaign pledge and his de­sire to frame the 2020 de­bate on his terms.

Stung by the Demo­cratic gains in Novem­ber and sparked by another ACA le­gal chal­lenge that could make its way to the Supreme Court, the pres­i­dent dug into the is­sue this past week, de­cid­ing to fight. He feels that it is an im­por­tant bat­tle to take on, said two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with White House think­ing who were not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

The pres­i­dent has been ac­tively en­gaged in con­ver­sa­tions about health care, di­al­ing up law­mak­ers in the House and Se­nate, and the White House is ex­pected to lay out fur­ther de­tails on his goals in the com­ing days.

“We are work­ing very hard on that,” said Trump as he was head­ing out to the Michi­gan rally, sin­gling out Repub­li­can sen­a­tors John Bar­rasso, Rick Scott and Bill Cas­sidy among those in­volved.

“They are go­ing to work to­gether to come up with some­thing that’s re­ally spec­tac­u­lar,” the pres­i­dent said.

But in truth, there is no grand Repub­li­can plan on Capi­tol Hill to re­place Oba­macare.

McCon­nell has made it clear he would rather see Repub­li­cans spend their time at­tack­ing the Demo­cratic plans to ex­pand ex­ist­ing health care pro­grams, namely the Medi­care for All plans em­braced by some of the Democrats run­ning to un­seat Trump. He sees it as their best op­tion for re­vers­ing pub­lic opin­ion head­ing to­ward 2020 when he, too, faces re­elec­tion. McCon­nell de­rides the high cost of a govern­ment-run sys­tem as “Medi­care for None.”

The think­ing among McCon­nell and other lead­ing Repub­li­cans is that it’s best to avoid another messy leg­isla­tive bat­tle. Repub­li­cans are loath to re­peat the un­der­tak­ing that con­sumed much of 2017. At that time, Repub­li­cans could never agree on a new health care plan and the months-long ex­er­cise ended in fail­ure when John McCain joined oth­ers in re­ject­ing one last-ditch ef­fort, doom­ing the years­long campaign to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare.

Mitch McCon­nell

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