House

Dem leaders amp up calls for bipartisan ObamaCare fixes

Greg Nash

Fueled by the Senate Republicans’ failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Democrats are ramping up their calls for GOP leaders to reach across the aisle in search of bipartisan fixes to former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“It’s time to move on. It’s time to start over,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday morning on the chamber floor.

“Rather than repeating the same failed partisan process yet again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our healthcare system.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D- Del.) said he talked to Majority Whip John Cornyn Tuesday morning about working together on a bipartisan fix to ObamaCare and will speak with other Republicans later in the day. 
 
“I thought there was a positive response. He’s a good friend,” Carper said. 
 
Carper and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) have a proposal that would move to stabilize the ObamaCare exchanges, similar to one proposed by House Democrats. 
 
“Members have ideas on healthcare,” Carper said. “We should have bipartisan hearings, bipartisan roundtables, have markups and have a chance to vote on this stuff.” 
 
{mosads}Republicans have, for nearly a decade, vowed to eliminate ObamaCare and replace it with more market-friendly provisions — a campaign message that resounded with voters and helped the Republicans win the House in 2010 and the Senate four years later. House Republicans on their second try passed such a bill in May, but two separate versions of that proposal have since failed to win enough Republican support to pass through the Senate.

Facing defeat, President Trump on Monday night called immediately for a Plan B: Repeal ObamaCare, he said, and replace it with separate reforms at a later date. That strategy has been endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) suggested Tuesday that such a bill could get a vote as early as this week.

But the strategy appears destined to fail, as three Republican senators have already come out against it. GOP leaders can afford only two defections in the upper chamber, which would then require Vice President Pence to break a 50-50 tie.

“I said back in January that if we’re going to do a repeal, there has to be a replacement,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Tuesday, joining GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) in opposition.

“There’s enough chaos and uncertainty already.”

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said Democrats and Republicans can work together if they drop their “repeal obsession.” 
 
“If we got to that place where we’re off the repeal obsession and actually working on serious problems, which repeal makes everything worse, we should try to work on individual bills as opposed to broad, sweeping comprehensive bills,” he said. 
  
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) echoed his colleague, saying he hoped the failure of the GOP’s repeal bill would lead to bipartisan talks. 
 
“McConnell said the failure of the repeal effort would mean you would have to come together and bolster the exchanges and talk about common ground, and that’s where we should go.” 

Some House Republicans were also quick to reject Trump’s new healthcare strategy.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), chairman of the Tuesday Group of centrist House Republicans, led the opposition against his own party’s repeal-and-replace effort and said a repeal-only strategy would speed up the collapse of the ObamaCare markets.

On Tuesday, Dent reiterated his call for a “bipartisan fix” for ObamaCare.

“I’ve always felt we’ve got to come up with a [centrist] proposal on healthcare,” he told reporters. “Maybe that was not popular at the time, but it may be the only option available at this moment.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday predicted the repeal-only plan has no chance to pass and joined Schumer in urging GOP leaders to reach across the aisle to fix the problems in ObamaCare that even its most stalwart supporters acknowledge.

“They didn’t have a plan; they don’t have a replacement; and what they ought to be doing is working with us to improve the Affordable Care Act,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. “We’re willing to do that; we’ve offered to do that; we want to do that; we believe it’s necessary to do that.”

Hoyer said GOP leaders have yet to reach out to any Democratic leaders in search of a bipartisan way forward.

“Nobody has invited me, [Nancy] Pelosi, [Frank] Pallone, [Richard] Neal, [Bobby] Scott or anybody else to sit down,” he said.

Hoyer rattled off a number of proposals he said would help stabilize ObamaCare, including measures ensuring enforcement of the individual and employer insurance mandates, guaranteeing the payment of subsidies to insurance companies that reduce health costs for low-income patients and propping up the individual market through market stabilization programs like reinsurance.

Some of those proposals were floated last week by a group of centrist and conservative-leaning House Democrats, who are hoping to jumpstart bipartisan talks by offering specific policy fixes — a push they’re accelerating in the wake of the Senate’s failure on repeal and replace.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who is working on that effort, asked House Democrats Tuesday morning to sign on to the proposal and to reach out to Ryan. A Welch aide also said he is in private discussions with Republicans.
 
“We believe the time has come to work with the Republican conference to make bipartisan improvements to the Affordable Care Act’s individual market,” Welch said in a ‘dear colleague’ message to Democrats. 

“Please join us in sending the below letter to Speaker Ryan urging him to work with us to stabilize and improve the individual market.”

“Now is not the time for Republicans to double down on their partisan strategy, or for Democrats to high-five over the other side’s political disaster,” Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), who’s leading the effort, said Tuesday in a statement.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, seemed to throw cold water on the prospects of bipartisanship Tuesday, accusing the Democrats of wanting “to double-down on a failed system that is in the middle of a collapse” in their their defense of ObamaCare.

“I’m not going to foreclose any options,” Ryan said during a news briefing in the Capitol. “The challenge I see, though, is the Democrats have not been interested in working on this. They don’t want to get us off of the ObamaCare train.”

“If they want to get away from government-run healthcare, if they don’t want to double-down on the failure of ObamaCare, then I think we have something to work with,” he added. “The problem is we just haven’t seen any evidence of that yet.”

Hoyer later rejected the Speaker’s comments.

“Democrats have said all along the ACA is not working perfectly, not working as well as we want, and we are willing to sit down and make it work well,” he said. “We are not prepared to support legislation which removes millions” of people from insurance coverage.

“We are prepared to look at Republican suggestions on how you make this work better.”

Jessie Hellmann and Scott Wong contributed to this report.

Updated 2:01 p.m. 

Tags Barack Obama Bob Casey Charles Schumer John Cornyn Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Peter Welch Richard Blumenthal Shelley Moore Capito Susan Collins Tim Kaine Tom Carper
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