Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever

Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats plan to force vulnerable Republicans to vote on legislation that would overturn a controversial Trump administration directive on ObamaCare.

The strategy shows Democrats will continue playing offense on ObamaCare, which for years was a political liability for the party. The 2010 law was by and large unpopular until the GOP nearly eradicated it during the last Congress.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerBiden calls on Trump to appoint coronavirus 'supply commander' Democrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) this month will make targeted GOP incumbents such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators begin informal talks on new coronavirus stimulus GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Campaigns pivot toward health awareness as races sidelined by coronavirus MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerGOP senator calls for investigation into 'mismanagement' of strategic ventilators Romney says he tested negative for coronavirus, will remain in quarantine Senate GOP super PAC books more than million in fall ads MORE (Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Democratic super PAC targets McSally over coronavirus response McSally calls on WHO director to step down MORE (Ariz.) take a tough vote.

“We want to debate health care,” he said. “We want to debate pre-existing conditions. We’re not saying our Republican friends are going to think exactly as we do, but let’s have a debate and vote,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Tuesday. 

The focus on health care seeks to counter the Republican criticism that Democrats’ main goal is impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE — and not a substantive legislative agenda.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Ky.) said, “House Democrats are finally indulging in their impeachment obsession. Full steam ahead,” adding that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired MORE (D-Calif.) had “crumbled” to the “left-wing impeachment caucus.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Senator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy Democratic lawmakers demand government stop deporting unaccompanied children MORE (Ill.) called the GOP impeachment arguments “baloney.”

“We have an agenda. Many of the elements have been considered and passed by the House. We have urged McConnell to at least let us debate them. He’s refused every single time,” he said.

In the 2018 cycle, Democrats were united on preserving ObamaCare, and touting the issue helped them win back the House. However, Democrats going into the 2020 election are divided on “Medicare for All” legislation, which has been ripped by Republicans and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Usually McConnell has an iron grip on the Senate agenda, but Schumer is taking advantage of a little-known law, the Congressional Review Act, which allows the minority party to seize the initiative to overturn an administrative rule as long as it’s done within a certain time period.

Schumer on Tuesday pointed out it’s “one of the rare instances where the minority can force a vote.”

He sees the Trump administration’s guidance issued in October 2018, which gives states more flexibility to approve health insurance plans that Democrats say fail to meet the “guardrails” of ObamaCare, as a ripe target to test GOP unity.

The Government Accountability Office has concluded the guidance has the force of a rule, making it eligible for termination under the Congressional Review Act.

The resolution to overturn Trump’s guidance on insurance plans must also pass the House and get the president’s signature to take effect.

Therefore, there’s little to no chance that Democrats succeed in stopping last year’s insurance regulation, though they hope at least to extract a political price from GOP incumbents facing reelection.

“Senate Republicans talk a good game about supporting pre-existing condition protections. Unfortunately, the so-called ‘Section 1332’ rule as written by the Trump Administration would circumvent those protections by allowing states to push junk health insurance plans that cost more and cover less,” Schumer’s office wrote in a memo to reporters last week.

Democrats also plan to use the Congressional Review Act this week to force a vote on a resolution to repeal Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule, which they say gives companies more leeway to pollute, and a resolution to repeal the IRS rule that prohibits state and local governments from reducing the tax liability of residents who saw their ability to deduct state and local taxes dramatically reduced under Trump’s 2017 tax bill.

But many Democrats see health care and protecting people with pre-existing conditions as one of their biggest advantages heading into 2020, and some in the party worry it’s getting lost in the uproar over impeachment.

“Just taking an impeachment break to let you know that they are still trying to cut Medicare and Medicaid and mental health while allowing polluters to ruin the planet. Ok, as you were,” Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLawmakers, labor leaders ramp up calls to use Defense Production Act Trump faces mounting pressure to unleash Defense Production Act Rand Paul's coronavirus diagnosis sends shockwaves through Senate MORE (D-Hawaii) tweeted earlier this month, opting for a tongue-in-cheek way to remind voters that Democrats haven’t forgotten about health care.

Schatz on Tuesday said his reminder “doesn’t mean I’m worried.”

“Against a backdrop of a corrupt president, we will talk about what we want to do to change things,” he said, adding, “We’re going to remain focused on health care.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTrump selects White House lawyer for coronavirus inspector general Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans MORE (D-Mont.), when asked about impeachment consuming too much attention in Washington, said, “I think we need to keep working on everything.”

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoliticians mourn the death of Bill Withers Pressure mounts for national parks closure amid coronavirus White House, Senate reach deal on trillion stimulus package MORE (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday said pushing legislation to protect people with pre-existing conditions should be a top priority.

“Eight hundred thousand West Virginians have pre-existing conditions. It’s all about my state,” said Manchin, who represents a state Trump won by 42 points in 2016.

Manchin called the Trump administration’s guidance weakening protections for those constituents “devastating.”

Asked if Democrats have become too consumed with impeachment, Manchin responded, “We got to do our job and the president has to be the president. We all have to do our job. Letting people with pre-existing conditions go uninsured or unprotected is absolutely wrong. It’s immoral. It’s wrong.”

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Senate Republicans facing tough reelections next year have tried to insulate themselves from Democratic attacks by declaring support for protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

The Democratic sponsors of the resolution to overturn Trump’s regulatory guidance, which they say would water down protections for people with illnesses, say they want to put their GOP colleagues on the spot to see how they’ll vote.

“All of our Republican colleagues are on the record as being supportive of protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This will be the first way to indicate that support,” said Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Hillicon Valley: Thousands of Zoom recordings exposed online | Google shares location data to counter virus | Dem senator pushes jobless benefits for gig workers | Twitter takes down 20,000 fake accounts MORE (D-Va.), who is circulating a petition to bring the resolution up for a vote.

Senate Republicans say Democrats are guilty of hypocrisy because some of them have supported states gaining waivers for insurance plans under ObamaCare’s Section 1332.

A GOP aide noted that Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Five things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Cyber threats spike during coronavirus pandemic MORE (D-Colo.), who is running for president, signed a letter with Gardner, as well as other Democratic members of the Colorado delegation, asking Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTrump eyes additional funds for small businesses impacted by pandemic Decentralized leadership raises questions about Trump coronavirus response Progressive group knocks McConnell for talking judicial picks during coronavirus MORE and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to give Colorado’s application for an insurance waiver “fair and full consideration.”

“Colorado has struggled with some of the highest insurance rates in the nation,” the Colorado lawmakers wrote. “Our rural and mountain communities are particularly hard hit, and the bill was passed in hope we can offer those communities relief as quickly as possible,” referring to a bill passed in the state assembly to authorize Colorado’s Division of Insurance to establish a reinsurance program to address rising premiums.

Republican defenders of Trump’s guidance on insurance waivers argue it is intended to bring down the costs of health care plans.

But Democrats such as Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democrats say more unemployment benefits needed in wake of record unemployment claims Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout MORE (Ore.), who helped write Section 1332 of ObamaCare, maintain that the provision was intended to give states more flexibility as long as they followed four guardrails.

States granted waivers from ObamaCare insurance requirements had to provide comprehensive health coverage, protect patients from excessive out-of-pocket costs and ensure the total number of people with health coverage didn’t drop. The plans also couldn’t add to the federal deficit.