GOP shuts down Trump health push

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFormer Bush assistant: Mueller report makes Obama look 'just plain bad' 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Dem says marijuana banking bill will get House vote this spring MORE (R-Ky.) shut the door Tuesday on any possibility that the Senate would move legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act before the 2020 election.

McConnell rejected a request from President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE last week that Republican lawmakers prepare a comprehensive package, ending the debate and attempting to protect GOP senators up for reelection next year.

McConnell delivered the message to Trump in a phone conversation Monday afternoon.

“We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon, and I pointed out to him the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.

“I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate,” McConnell said. “He did say, as he later tweeted, that he accepted that and he would be developing a plan that he would take to the American people during the 2020 campaign.”

McConnell has privately told GOP colleagues that he would prefer to play offense by attacking Democrats’ ambitious “Medicare for all” proposals, which he says would gut the program, instead of playing defense on whatever comprehensive plan GOP lawmakers might come up with.

After speaking to McConnell, Trump tweeted Monday night that he now expects Republicans to take up comprehensive health care reform in 2021, when he predicts the GOP will control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Trump triggered a crisis for Republicans just a week ago when, fresh off a victory from the end of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation, the Justice Department filed legal papers calling for a court to strike down all of ObamaCare.

The decision immediately gave Democrats an election-year talking point that changed the subject from Mueller and caught Republicans flat-footed, putting them on defense. Democrats had seen GOP attacks on ObamaCare as instrumental to their winning the House majority last fall.

Senate Republicans told The Hill last week that they were privately rooting for the courts to uphold the law and spare them from the political chaos that would ensue if it were struck down. 

Instead, Senate Republicans said Tuesday that they will focus on smaller-scale legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and promote association health plans, under which small businesses join together to provide more affordable health plans to employees. 

Both parties face challenges on health care, with some Democrats worried that a push by liberals for a single-payer Medicare for all proposal could harm their party in next year’s elections.

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsMenendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions Dem report questions State Dept. decision to revoke award to Trump critic Senate Dem calls on Trump to apologize for attacks on McCain MORE (Del.), a moderate Democrat, said Tuesday that Medicare for All, a bill that was sponsored in the last Congress by five of the six Democratic senators running for president, poses serious policy problems.

“A bill that would compel more than 150 million Americans to give up their current health insurance, I think, is more bold than it is viable. I think at this point we have the fight of our lives to defend the Affordable Care Act’s protection against pre-existing condition discrimination,” he said.

Two Democrats, Sens. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Democratic proposals to overhaul health care: A 2020 primer Dems ask Justice Dept to release findings of Acosta-Epstein investigation MORE (Va.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetMichael Bennet declared cancer-free, paving way for possible 2020 run License to discriminate: Religious exemption laws are trampling rights in rural America Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (Colo.), on Tuesday unveiled their Medicare X legislation, modeled on the public insurance option Democrats debated in 2009 before passing the Affordable Care Act. Bennet is weighing running for president on a more centrist track,

They say it’s more realistic than Medicare for all, which could kick millions of Americans off their employer-sponsored health plans and cost tens of trillions of dollars. 

“Medicare X is directly responsive to the need to have competition in the market, to have a lower cost and to begin to build toward universal coverage in this country, which is what we need,” Bennet said, adding it has “a much greater chance of succeeding that some other proposals.” 

It would create a government-sponsored insurance option and use Medicare’s network of doctors and providers to guarantee health benefits such as maternity care and mental health services and ensure access to affordable prescription drugs. 

The bill’s original co-sponsors include Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Telehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? 2020 Dems call on Mueller to testify about redacted report MORE (Minn.), the only Senate Democrat who has both formally announced a presidential run and declined to sponsor Medicare for All legislation last year. Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisFive former Obama ambassadors back Buttigieg Harris: Integrity of US justice system 'took a real blow' with Barr's actions Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina MORE (D-Calif.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerResurfaced Buttigieg yearbook named him 'most likely to be president' Man arrested for threatening Dems, citing Omar comments Buttigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration MORE (D-N.J.) who co-sponsored Medicare for All legislation in the last Congress, also co-sponsored Kaine’s and Bennet’s Medicare X plan.

Much of the discussion before the Trump administration’s move on ObamaCare was focused on the divisions within the Democratic Party over Medicare for all.

But that changed instantly with the Justice Department shifting its position in the ongoing ObamaCare case, taking the spotlight off Democrats.

By ending that debate, McConnell hopes the narrative on health care will go back to Democrats.

Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTelehealth is calling — will Congress pick up? GOP grows tired of being blindsided by Trump Hillicon Valley: Assange faces US charges after arrest | Trump says WikiLeaks 'not my thing' | Uber officially files to go public | Bezos challenges retail rivals on wages | Kremlin tightens its control over internet MORE (S.D.) said Trump’s plan to have the courts strike down all of ObamaCare and then have Congress replace it with a new benefit system was simply unrealistic. 

“The best-laid plans and best of intentions with regard to an overhaul of the health care system in this country run into the wall of reality that it’s going to be very hard to get a Democrat House and a Republican Senate to agree on something,” he said.  
Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar Alexander Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Five things to know about the measles outbreak MORE (R-Tenn.) said Tuesday afternoon that McConnell made the right move to steer Trump away from comprehensive health care reform.

“I agree that’s the right course. What the Senate should be working on is what we’re working on, which is working to reduce health care costs in a bipartisan way this year,” he said, pointing to proposals related to drug costs, surprise medical billing and transparency.