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 SchumerTrump administration installs plaque marking finish of 100 miles of border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate implications MORE (D-N.Y.) this month will make targeted GOP incumbents such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 MORE (Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyPoll: Overwhelming majority say news media making US more politically divided Bill Kristol on McSally calling CNN reporter a liberal hack: 'I guess I'm liberal' McSally dismisses calls to apologize to CNN's Raju for 'liberal hack' comment: 'Called it like it is' 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 TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE — and not a substantive legislative agenda.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (R-Ky.) said, “House Democrats are finally indulging in their impeachment obsession. Full steam ahead,” adding that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiREAD: House impeachment managers' trial brief Desperate Democrats badmouth economy even as it booms Pelosi offers message to Trump on Bill Maher show: 'You are impeached forever' MORE (D-Calif.) had “crumbled” to the “left-wing impeachment caucus.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request 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 BidenBiden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger pens op-ed in defense of Biden: 'I stuttered once, too. I dare you to mock me' 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 SchatzOvernight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request Senate Dems urge Esper to oppose shifting Pentagon money to border wall Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change 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) TesterPelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week Pelosi says she'll send articles of impeachment to Senate 'soon' Pressure building on Pelosi over articles of impeachment 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) ManchinTrump's trial a major test for McConnell, Schumer Poll: West Virginia voters would view Manchin negatively if he votes to convict Trump Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week 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 WarnerHillicon Valley: Apple, Barr clash over Pensacola shooter's phone | Senate bill would boost Huawei alternatives | DHS orders agencies to fix Microsoft vulnerability | Chrome to phase out tracking cookies Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Sen. Warner calls on State Department to take measures to protect against cyberattacks 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 BennetSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans Klobuchar on missing campaigning for impeachment: 'I can do two things at once' 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 MnuchinSecurity for Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits cost local taxpayers million On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Senate approves Trump trade deal with Canada, Mexico | Senate Dems launch probe into Trump tax law regulations | Trump announces Fed nominees Senate Democrats launch investigation into Trump tax law regulations 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 WydenHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Lawmakers call for FTC probe into top financial data aggregator Overnight Health Care: Progressives raise red flags over health insurer donations | Republican FTC commish backs Medicare negotiating drug prices | Trump moves to protect money for religious groups 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.