White House to pressure McConnell on ObamaCare

White House to pressure McConnell on ObamaCare
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White House officials are exploring ways to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFord's lawyer: Hearing doesn't appear to be designed for 'fair', 'respectful' treatment GOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week Press: Judge Kavanaugh must withdraw MORE (R-Ky.) to return to the controversial issue of ObamaCare repeal when the Senate returns to work in September.

President Trump, who has repeatedly criticized McConnell in public, wants to hold the leader’s feet to the fire on the issue, say White House sources.

“I have not heard a single voice in the White House say give up on healthcare. Everyone keeps saying 'let’s keep trying and let’s keep pushing,' ” said one White House source.

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“We’re definitely not ready to move on and feel members should keep looking for a way to pass the bill. It would be one thing if it had fallen 30 votes short but they were just one vote shy of passing a bill in the Senate,” the source added.

One point of leverage the White House may explore is using the looming expiration of reconciliation instructions for fiscal 2017 to argue for one more push.

Under the rules, the GOP has until the end of September to pass ObamaCare repeal legislation under the fast-track rules, which prevent a Democratic filibuster.

This means the GOP has just one last chance to defund Planned Parenthood or eliminate the most unpopular elements of ObamaCare, such as the mandate on individuals to purchase insurance.

McConnell has made it clear he wants to move on to other priorities: raising the debt ceiling, negotiating a spending deal, passing a defense authorization and reforming the tax code.

“It’s time to move on,” McConnell declared on the Senate floor after Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Trump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote MORE (R-Ariz.) stunned colleagues by casting the deciding vote against a pared-down ObamaCare repeal bill.

McConnell told reporters on Aug. 1 that the Senate will take up tax reform when senators return to Washington after Labor Day.

A number of Senate Republicans are also advocating for various ObamaCare repeal bills, though behind the scenes, many are also happy to move on to tax reform ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

Another option mentioned by a White House official to press Republicans into action would be to work with the conservative House Freedom Caucus to delay passage of the fiscal 2018 budget, which needs to be passed in order to take up tax-reform legislation, until the Senate takes another shot at ObamaCare.

A third option would be to act “administratively” to put pressure on Senate Republicans.

For example, administration officials for months have suggested that they could eliminate subsidies that members of Congress and their staff receive through ObamaCare to help them buy health coverage.

“People are talking about different things with healthcare. They’re looking at what they can do administratively. There are subsidies for insurance companies, there are also subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs,” said a second White House official.

These subsidies serve as employer contributions for lawmakers and staff who were moved from the federal employee healthcare benefits program to the ObamaCare exchanges.

A Republican aide acknowledged administration officials had made the suggestion.

“It’s a constant threat,” said a senior Senate GOP aide. “I’ve heard this from the Domestic Policy Council and [the Office of Management and Budget].” 

Administration officials are also looking at stopping the cost-sharing reduction payments designed to shore up insurance companies that lose money by participating in the ObamaCare exchanges.

This could put financial pressure on companies to withdraw from individual marketplaces around the country and hasten the unraveling of ObamaCare, which could put pressure on Congress to return to healthcare legislation.

That tactic, however, has raised red flags in White House discussions because it may prompt legal challenges.

“The talk is, ‘Why don’t we just for now continue the payments, which is a monthly decision, for now so don’t trip any legal wires,' ” said the first White House source.

Trump could also put insurance companies under pressure with changes to other payments, which could force action by Congress.

White House officials who are looking at ways to undermine ObamaCare are backed up by an array of conservative leaders who on Friday released a memo calling on Trump to take action.

“The continuing lack of leadership on repealing ObamaCare makes Presidential action critical and timely. The President has the authority to move the process of repeal forward and show that he aims to keep his word,” members of the Conservative Action Project wrote in the Aug. 11 memo.

The signatories included former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.); Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks; former Reagan Attorney General Edwin Meese III; David Bozell, president of ForAmerica; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, among others.