Pelosi seeks to unify Dems on ObamaCare fixes

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is pressing Democrats to hold back on specific ObamaCare fixes a week after President Trump and House Republicans failed spectacularly in their bid to repeal the landmark law.

Pelosi has told members to bring any suggestions to leadership before making them public, a stance intended to prevent Republicans from putting a target on them and avoid freelancing by her own members.

The strategy also seeks to unify the party on healthcare ahead of 2018, when Democrats are growing more confident that they could have a real chance of winning the House.


Pelosi gained the Speaker’s gavel in 2006 after Democrats beat down President George W. Bush’s plan in 2005 to privatize Social Security, something the Democratic leader is reminding her caucus.

“When we fought President Bush on privatizing Social Security, we succeeded because we were unified and curbed our enthusiasm to freelance,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Democrats this week.

Pelosi’s marching orders in the 2005 fight were for Democrats to stage town hall events and present Bush’s plan –– but not to offer an alternative, said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a close Pelosi ally.

“At that time, there were members that said, ‘I have my own plan; we need to put our plan out there,’” Eshoo said.

“No, this was a test of his plan,” she added, relaying leadership’s response. “We gave people the facts and that was it.”

Democratic leaders insist they have a number of policy prescriptions in mind for fixing ObamaCare’s shortcomings. But they’re keeping those ideas close to the vest –– at least for now.

“You would be surprised if I started going into details at this point in time –– you would be pleased, but you would be surprised,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, told reporters this week. “And so I'm not going to go into detail.”

That restraint makes for smart politics, as obstruction has become a powerful tool for the minority party in Congress.

“If history is any guide, Democrats will believe they have zero incentive to deal with Trump on much of anything,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, wrote this week in analyzing the political effects of the GOP’s repeal failure.

“Both parties are heavily invested in the other party’s failure as a means of winning back a legislative majority, and have been for some time.”

But some rank-and-file Democrats, particularly those who could face tough reelection fights next year, say their party should offer proposals to address ObamaCare’s problems, particularly rising premiums in the individual market.

“I think we should step forward,” said Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchDeGette dropped from chief deputy whip spot How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit Dem overtures to Trump on drug pricing worry pharma MORE (D-Vt.), who also singled out the squeeze on small employers as a flaw in need of fixing.

“If we identify issues that we’d be trying to solve if Obama were president, we can step forward to say, ‘We’re ready to solve them.’ And then if they reject our offer, that’s on them. But this is not [a question of] who has to go first,” he added.

“It’s important for us to make a good-faith effort to demonstrate we want to improve what we have, not just continue the political food fight.”

There’s also concern from other Democrats who want political cover as they seek to argue their alternative is better than what Republicans are offering.

Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosThe Hill's Morning Report — Markets on edge over Trump, Xi trade negotiations House Dems worry about lack of women of color in leadership Bustos elected to lead Democratic campaign arm MORE (D-Ill.), a member of leadership who represents a district won by Trump, recalled a town hall meeting last weekend where constituents demanded to know what Democrats are proposing instead of the GOP plan.

“In a district like mine, it would not be enough to say, ‘We’re going to fight this,’” Bustos said. “You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to fight it,’ and not have answers.”

And Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who’s being targeted by the House GOP campaign arm in 2018, argued Democrats don’t necessarily have to wait for Republicans to drop talk of repeal before coming forward with policy suggestions.

“The president can decide and Republicans can decide if they want to work along those lines or not. I don’t think they will,” Delaney said. At the same time, “I think we should have a very clear plan as to what we think should happen to keep the Affordable Care Act.”

Delaney floated strengthening existing provisions of the law that Republicans have tried to weaken, such as the so-called “risk corridors” to offset insurer losses on the healthcare exchanges.

Multiple Democratic lawmakers also proposed giving the federal government greater ability to negotiate prescription drug prices as an area of potential compromise with President Trump, who has advocated for the idea in contrast to most in his party.

But as the minority party, there’s limited incentive for Democrats to help the GOP on healthcare or much else. Instead, they‘re saying Republicans “own” the healthcare system.

“There will be no opportunity to work together on health care unless they abandon their reckless political call to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), a co-chair of House Democrats’ messaging operation. “If they change course, we can have a meaningful discussion.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the Democrats’ primary concern is that Trump and the Republicans are “trying to sabotage” the ACA by halting outreach campaigns, challenging the legality of insurance subsidies and threatening to waive the penalties for individuals who don’t buy insurance.

“I don’t believe them when they say they want to work with us, because they’re still talking about repeal and they’re still doing bad things to sabotage the bill,” he said.

Pressed if Democrats will propose any changes to the ACA, Pallone suggested there’s no plan forthcoming.

“What I’m proposing is that they stop the sabotage,” he said.