Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal


Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has made it crystal clear: If Republicans repeal ObamaCare without immediately implementing a plan to replace it, Democrats will not help them out of a pickle down the road.   

Senate Democratic sources familiar with Schumer’s thinking say he will not engage in any negotiations to pass a watered-down version of the landmark healthcare reform law if Republicans unilaterally force its repeal first under special budgetary rules. 

“That’s not a close call. They’re doing something so extraordinary reckless. You cannot reward hostage taking,” a Democratic senator said. 

{mosads}The Democratic senator said Republicans have refused to work with President Obama for six years to come up with fixes to improve the law because they wanted to heighten its unpopularity and score political points.

Now, even if the GOP can secure a repeal through the budget reconciliation process – which requires only a majority – they’ll need support from at least eight Democrats to hit the 60 votes needed to pass replacement legislation.

The senator said Schumer’s view and the prevailing view in the Democratic Caucus is that they should not lift a finger to help Republicans out of a political mess if they repeal the healthcare reform law without having a replacement ready to avert severe market disruptions.

“If they want to rip healthcare away from 22 million Americans, they don’t get to blame us for not cobbling something back together,” the lawmaker said. 

Schumer believes Republicans will inflict a massive political wound on themselves if they repeal ObamaCare’s most popular provisions – such as the ban on insurance companies discriminating against people with preexisting conditions and the Medicaid expansion – and fail to come up with adequate alternatives.

Schumer told colleagues on the Senate floor Wednesday evening that Democrats would work with Republicans to improve the Affordable Care Act or even pass a comprehensive reform bill replacing it – under certain conditions.

“So long as it covers as many people as the ACA, so long as it helps bring healthcare costs down, so long as it doesn’t move our healthcare system backward,” he said. 

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged at a press conference after Election Day that Republicans will need Democratic support to enact legislation replacing ObamaCare.

“What the American people are looking for is results. And to get results in the Senate, as all of you know, it requires some Democratic participation and cooperation,” McConnell said one day after the election.

But Democrats are warning that if McConnell wants to replace ObamaCare, he needs to negotiate with them now — not after a one-sided repeal effort is over.

“They are using an inherently partisan process in my view to get an ideological trophy,” Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, said of Republican efforts to use the budget process to repeal ObamaCare.

Wyden said he would not participate in the Republican effort to overhaul the nation’s healthcare sector as it’s now planned. 

“People are going to get hurt,” he said. “If they want to set this whole thing aside, the partisan agenda that is about capturing their ideological trophy from the campaign trail and talk about ways to approve it, I’ve always been clear [about supporting] that.

“That’s why I’m not going to say, ‘Fine, repeal it, we’ll look at something that may happen down the road,’” he added.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, spoke for most of his Democratic colleagues when he said, “The time for negotiation is now.”

The Senate Republican Caucus is now in state of heightened anxiety over the possibility they may be headed into what Sen. Bob Corker (R-Texas) calls a “box canyon,” or a dead end.

The American Medical Association, the largest and best known association of doctors, warned Congress in a letter earlier this month that lawmakers should not dismantle the law without laying out “in reasonable detail what will replace current policies.”

While House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and President-elect Donald Trump have promised repeal and replacement would happen quickly and nearly simultaneously, some GOP senators are showing concern about the pace. 

Corker, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) unveiled this past week an amendment to the budget resolution that would have extended the deadline for committees to come up with ObamaCare repeal legislation from Jan. 27 to March 3.

But McConnell was concerned that growing dissension in his ranks posed a risk to passage of the budget resolution, the first step toward repeal. He scrambled to quell the concerns, according to lawmakers who discussed strategy with him at a meeting Wednesday.

The GOP leader told colleagues “to stop obsessing” about whether repeal legislation would also be labeled as a replacement measure, according to a GOP senator who participated in the conversation. 

He also urged them to stop fretting about whether the committees of jurisdiction would be instructed to come up with an ObamaCare repeal plan by the Jan. 27 or the March 3 target. A second Republican source confirmed the conversation.  

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) backed up McConnell at the private meeting by explaining to colleagues that Jan. 27 was the earliest date by which the committees could report their plan for repealing ObamaCare, not a deadline.

After receiving these assurances from McConnell and Enzi, Corker, Portman and their allies withdrew the amendment

“I know a date has been put in this reconciliation of Jan. 27, and we realize that is not a real date,” Corker said. “It’s a placeholder.” 

Tags Bob Corker Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Lisa Murkowski Mike Enzi Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rob Portman Ron Wyden Susan Collins Tim Kaine

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