WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday stepped up demands for revived congressional efforts on health care and suggested that senators further delay their summer break to pass legislation after failed votes last week.
Aides said President Donald Trump is prepared in the coming days to end required payments to insurers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as part of a bid to force the Senate to act.
“The president will not accept those who said it’s, quote, ‘Time to move on,'” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said. Those were the words used by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after the early Friday morning defeat of the GOP proposal.
Conway said Trump was deciding whether to act on his threat to end cost-sharing reduction payments, which are aimed at trimming out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people. “He’s going to make that decision this week, and that’s a decision that only he can make,” Conway said.
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For seven years, Republicans have promised that once they took power, they would scrap former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and pass a replacement. But that effort has stalled, most recently in the Senate on Friday, and McConnell said it was time to focus on other policy matters.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate, where no Democrats voted for the GOP bill and three Republicans defected in the final vote Friday. One of the GOP defectors, Sen. John McCain, has since returned to Arizona for treatment for brain cancer.
The president said Saturday that Senate Republicans “look like fools” after the repeal bill went down, and he made a renewed call for the Senate to abolish a rule requiring 60 votes for some bills — though the health care measure fell short even though it needed only a 51-vote majority to pass.
Trump reiterated that position in a Twitter post on Sunday, saying, “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace…and go to 51 votes.”
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White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, when asked Sunday if no other legislative business should be taken up until the Senate acts again on health care, responded “yes.”
While the House has begun a five-week recess, the Senate is scheduled to work two more weeks before a summer break. The Senate originally had been scheduled to begin the break at the end of this month, but McConnell delayed it, citing unfinished business that includes addressing a backlog of executive and judicial nominations ahead of a busy agenda in September, when the Senate must pass a defense spending bill and raise the government’s borrowing limit.
“In the White House’s view, they can’t move on in the Senate,” Mulvaney said, referring to health legislation. “They need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Dean Heller of Nevada met with Trump on Friday to discuss a revised proposal. Graham said in a statement that Trump had been “optimistic” about the trio’s plan.
Trump warned over the weekend that he would end federal subsidies for health care insurance for congressional members and the rest of the country if the Senate doesn’t act soon.
The Affordable Care Act required members of Congress, along with their staff, to buy health care insurance through the online markets created under the law. But the lawmakers and their staff members generally make too much to qualify for subsidies under the law meant for low-income Americans. So Obama decided to let individual congressional offices be counted as small businesses, thereby allowing members and their staff to qualify for the subsidies.
“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Trump tweeted Saturday.
“I talked to the president at length about that exact issue yesterday,” Mulvaney said during an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union. “What he’s saying is, look, if Obamacare is hurting people, and it is, then why shouldn’t it hurt insurance companies and, more importantly perhaps for this discussion, members of Congress?”
The subsidies, totaling about $7 billion a year, help reduce deductibles and copayments for consumers with modest incomes. The Obama administration used its rule-making authority to set direct payments to insurers to help offset such costs. Trump inherited the payment structure, but he also has the power to end it.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said Sunday that “no decision’s been made” on whether to continue the subsidies but that the administration’s job is “to follow the law of the land.”
The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans over whether the health law specifically included a congressional appropriation for the money, as is required under the Constitution. Trump has only guaranteed the payments through July, which ends today.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the three Republican senators who voted against the GOP health bill on Friday, said she’s troubled by Trump’s claims that the insurance payments are a “bailout.” She said Trump’s threat to cut off payments would not change her opposition to the GOP health bill and stressed that cost-sharing payments were critical to make insurance more affordable for low-income people.
“The uncertainty about whether that subsidy is going to continue from month to month is clearly contributing to the destabilization of the insurance markets, and that’s one thing that Congress needs to end,” said Collins, who wants lawmakers to appropriate money for the payments.
“I certainly hope the administration does not do anything in the meantime to hasten that collapse,” she added.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said further action on health care should be done in a bipartisan manner and not be rushed.
“You cannot do major entitlement reform singlehandedly, and you wouldn’t do major legislative initiatives singlehandedly,” she said in Alaska.
Trump previously said the law that he and others call “Obamacare” would collapse immediately whenever those payments stop. He has indicated a desire to halt the subsidies but so far has allowed them to continue.
“Our goal … as well as the president’s goal, is to put in place a law, a system, that actually works for patients,” Price said on Meet the Press. “You can’t do that under the current structure.”
Information for this article was contributed by Hope Yen of The Associated Press; by Saleha Mohsin of Bloomberg News; by Laura King of Tribune News Service; and by Dino Grandoni of The Washington Post.
A Section on 07/31/2017