Hoyer not insisting on ObamaCare subsidies in spending bill

Greg Nash

ObamaCare subsidies to help low-income patients do not need to be a part of a 2017 spending package, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday, muddling the message from House Democrats as leaders from both parties negotiate legislation to prevent a government shutdown.

Hoyer, the Democratic whip, on Tuesday said that while members of his party would welcome “clarifying language” surrounding the subsidies, he’s not insisting that specific language be included, nor will he advise other Democrats to do so.

“We believe the president ought to fund it. And it doesn’t need to be in the CR,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol, referring to a continuing resolution to fund the government. “The president has the authority to go ahead and do it, and he ought to do it … and we believe if he doesn’t, millions of people are going to be hurt.”

{mosads}House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has demanded that the reimbursements to insurance companies be included as part of the government spending bill, suggesting that Democrats are willing to risk a shutdown if the provision is excluded.

Pelosi delivered that message earlier this month, after President Trump threatened to withhold the payments, and she’s stuck to it this week, as Congress approaches the midnight Saturday funding deadline.

Pressed on the issue on Tuesday, however, Hoyer was adamant.

“I want to make it clear, the cost-sharing subsidies are in the law. I don’t want to recommend to my members that we make this part of any deal with the administration. We’re not dealing on this,” he said.

At issue are ObamaCare payments, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which reimburse insurance companies that reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income patients. The subsidies are expected to top $7 billion this year.

Trump grabbed headlines several weeks ago, when he threatened to withhold those payments as a way to undermine ObamaCare and force Democrats to negotiate on a replacement bill –– legislation that Trump and the Republicans failed to pass last month due to GOP infighting.

Trump, who has long-argued that ObamaCare will collapse on its own, suggested the resulting turmoil would convince Democrats to reconsider their opposition to the Republicans’ healthcare plans.

“I don’t want people to get hurt,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal. “What I think should happen –– and will happen –– is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) were quick to reject Trump’s entreaty and said the Democrats would insist on a CSR provision in the 2017 spending package. If Congress doesn’t act before Saturday, much of the federal government will shut down.

A senior Democratic aide familiar with the ongoing negotiations argued later Tuesday that party leaders are on the same page when it comes to their approach to the CSR subsidies.
“Mr.  Hoyer is pointing out Democrats’ view of the lawsuit by House Republicans that we believe it doesn’t have merit and that the payments should be continued by President Trump,” the aide said in an email. “Democrats have argued to Republicans in the course of these negotiations that we are not going to make concessions in order to secure clarifying language in the Omnibus and that it is in Republicans’ direct interest to fix the problem they have created with their lawsuit.”
“This being said,” the aide added, “the position of House and Senate Democratic negotiators is that the Omnibus must include the permanent CSR language.”

Other Democrats on Monday also urged Trump to deal with the payments.

“This has always been an executive function. This should not be something ultimately that Congress has to fund on an annual basis,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said when asked whether he would vote against the bill if it didn’t include the payments.

“The president, under the Affordable Care Act, has the ability, and I would argue the responsibility, to fund the cost-sharing reductions. Might it be preferred to have it built in the budget? Sure, but this really has been an executive function and should continue as an executive function.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said if Trump commits to continuing the payments, they don’t need to be in the spending bill. 

“The president could commit to continue spending without it being in the bill, and I would support that,” he said.

“(CSR funding) could be addressed in a different form, but it really should be a commitment to a sustainable cost sharing reduction program.”

The CSR issue poses a dilemma for GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, who have railed against ObamaCare since it was passed in 2010. House Republicans have previously sued the executive branch over the CSR subsidies specifically, arguing that the payments were unconstitutional because Congress never appropriated the money.

With Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, however, there’s a growing fear that the GOP would be blamed should the CSR payments be canceled and millions of low-income people find themselves without health coverage.

Some top Republicans –– including Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) –– are advocating for Congress to earmark funding specifically for the subsidies. That would put Republicans in the strange position of temporarily boosting a law they’re also fighting to repeal.

Democrats, meanwhile, dispute the notion that the CSR payments are being made illegally –– a position Hoyer amplified Tuesday.

“The law that was passed provides for these payments,” he said. “The payments are already provided for in the baseline, so there are no costs to proceeding with those payments, and we believe the president ought to proceed with the payments.

“But we’re not negotiating on it.”

Jessie Hellmann contributed.

Updated 4:03 p.m. 

Tags Chris Murphy Chuck Schumer Richard Blumenthal

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