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 SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) this month will make targeted GOP incumbents such as Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTariffs threaten 1.5M jobs: Study This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' MORE (Colo.) and Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths 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 TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE — and not a substantive legislative agenda.

In a floor speech Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments MORE (R-Ky.) said, “House Democrats are finally indulging in their impeachment obsession. Full steam ahead,” adding that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiLouisiana governor wins re-election Dynamic scoring: Forward-thinking budgeting practices to grow our economy Pelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' MORE (D-Calif.) had “crumbled” to the “left-wing impeachment caucus.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Pentagon watchdog declines to investigate hold on Ukraine aid 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 BidenBudget official says he didn't know why military aid was delayed: report Growing 2020 field underscores Democratic divide READ: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry 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 SchatzCongress should lift the ban on medical cannabis access for military veterans Booker introduces bill banning facial recognition tech in public housing Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer 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) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation 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) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics 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: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data 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 BennetNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting Biden, Buttigieg condemn rocket attacks on Israel 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 to tour Apple factory with Tim Cook on Wednesday The Hill's Morning Report — Public impeachment drama resumes today On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings 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 WydenDemocratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant 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.