Dems eye emergency spending bills to restore ObamaCare subsidies

Dems eye emergency spending bills to restore ObamaCare subsidies
© Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday urged Republicans to act immediately to restore ObamaCare insurance subsidies newly withheld by the Trump administration, saying Democrats may use emergency spending bills to secure the payments.

She added that restoring the subsidies was a "matter of life and death."

Pelosi said the most favorable route for ensuring disbursement of the cost-sharing reductions would be stand-alone legislation.

“We’d like it to be in a free-standing bill next Tuesday,” she said during a hastily staged press briefing in the Capitol.

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But with GOP leaders opposing the ObamaCare subsidies, Democrats are also eying other legislative vehicles, including must-pass legislation to extend government funding in December and any number of emergency spending bills that might arrive before then as Congress scrambles to respond to a series of devastating natural disasters.

“There’s a stand-alone vehicle, a vehicle that’s attached to a supplemental, or down the road in the omnibus, but that’s pretty far down the road. Hopefully, we could resolve it sooner,” she said.

“I’m not suggesting any one of them. I’m just saying these are the vehicles that are leaving the station,” Pelosi added. “There may be others, we’ll see.”

Pelosi warned that Democrats would not accept the payments as a condition of a budget package that included new funding for the southern border wall favored by Trump.

“No, that won’t work,” she warned.

Hours earlier, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump is right: The visa lotto has got to go Schumer predicts bipartisan support for passing DACA fix this year No room for amnesty in our government spending bill MORE (D-N.Y.) suggested Democrats would have their best shot at securing the payments as part of an omnibus package to extend government spending, which expires Dec. 8.

"I think we're going to have a very good opportunity in the omnibus to get this done in a bipartisan way, if we can't get it done sooner," Schumer told reporters on a press call.

President Trump has threatened each month of his presidency to stop paying the subsidies, federal payments to insurance companies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income patients under ObamaCare. Late Thursday night, the White House announced it would finally do just that, saying it doesn’t have the legal authority to make the payments under the Affordable Care Act.

House Republicans had sued the Obama administration over the subsidies, arguing they’re illegal because Congress never appropriated the money. Last year, a federal judge ruled in their favor, leading the Obama administration to appeal the decision.

Democrats had tried to include language guaranteeing the payments as part of a 2017 omnibus spending bill signed into law in May, but Republicans rejected that provision.

The payments were previously expected to total roughly $7 billion this year, $9 billion next year and $100 billion over a decade. The Congressional Budget Office has warned that eliminating the payments would cause premiums for ObamaCare plans to spike by 20 percent, while about 1 million people would lose insurance coverage next year alone.

Those potentially harmful effects have caused a number of Republicans to support the continuation of the payments. But House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP rep: Virginia defeat 'a referendum' on Trump administration After Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem Pence: Praying 'takes nothing away' from trying to figure out causes behind mass shooting MORE (R-Wis.) said Thursday night that he’s backing Trump’s move to halt them, calling the decision “a monumental affirmation of Congress’s authority and the separation of powers.”

“ObamaCare has proven itself to be a fatally flawed law,” Ryan said in a statement, “and the House will continue to work with Trump administration to provide the American people a better system.”

He did not say how the House would do that.

While the House passed an ObamaCare repeal bill earlier in the year, Senate Republicans have failed repeatedly to replicate the feat.

Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderObamaCare becomes political weapon for Democrats Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training Sen. Warren sold out the DNC MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayA bipartisan bridge opens between the House and Senate Overnight Health Care: ObamaCare sign-ups surge in early days Collins, Manchin to serve as No Labels co-chairs MORE (D-Wash.) had been working earlier in the year on legislation securing the subsidy payments, but that effort was shelved when GOP leaders last month took another shot at repealing ObamaCare. That effort failed, raising the possibility that the Alexander-Murray effort may be revived.

Pelosi on Friday said she has great trust in Murray to negotiate a compromise favorable to Democrats. But she declined to say how close the sides might be on a deal.

“It will be as close as the Republican majority enables it to be,” she said.

Pelosi charged that Trump’s move to withhold the payments is just the latest effort by Republicans to undermine ObamaCare in order to validate the critics’ claims that it’s failing.

“The GOP will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but they have purposefully, brazenly, cruelly and spitefully acted to sabotage the law and the health care it provides,” she said.

“Congress must act immediately clarifying the language to restore the vital cost-sharing reduction payments and reversing the chaos the president has tried to sow on America’s health,” she added.