Health Care

Democrats go in for the kill on ObamaCare repeal

Democrats are going in for the kill on the GOP push to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Buoyed by Republican infighting and the backlash against the GOP legislation, Democrats believe they have momentum as they head toward a final showdown in July.

They got a boost on Friday when President Trump muddied the waters for his party by suggesting senators repeal ObamaCare now and replace it later — an option that was roundly rejected by Republicans in January. 

The GOP tug of war comes as Democrats are united around a single political message: That the bill will give tax breaks to the rich while taking healthcare away coverage for the poor.

“Democrats have been united and on offense and Republicans have been divided and on defense. That’s because, again, the core of their bill is so, so out of touch with what the average American, even the average Republican, wants,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.

Democrats can’t block the healthcare legislation on their own, but are hoping public pressure will convince at least three Senate Republicans to vote against the bill.  

Their messaging war got a boost from the Congressional Budget Office, which on Monday estimated the Senate bill would result in an additional 22 million uninsured Americans over a decade, including some low-income individuals who would be priced out of the market. 

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) tied the GOP’s struggle to secure 50 votes to the CBO’s findings, calling it the “hurdle they couldn’t overcome.” 

There are signs that the Democrats’ message discipline is working.

Only 12 percent of Americans support the Senate legislation, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll. The bill faired slightly better in a NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, which found that 17 percent support the bill, while more than half — 55 percent — opposed it.

Senate GOP leadership hoped to reach a deal by Friday, allowing them to regain momentum after missing their self-imposed deadline to vote by the July 4th recess. 

But despite a revolving door of meetings with senators and administration officials, Republicans left town without a locked-in agreement.

Instead, GOP senators are now openly debating whether to keep a tax on high earners that was created to help pay for ObamaCare. The money saved from preserving the tax could allow Republicans to increase the financial assistance for lower-income people.

“The initial draft bill really didn’t provide an opportunity for low-income citizens to buy healthcare that actually covered them,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said, “so that equation is going to change.”  

Keeping the tax could help defuse the Democratic attack, but could also likely spark a backlash from some GOP conservatives, who want all of ObamaCare’s taxes repealed.

The process of crafting the healthcare bill in the Senate has been fraught with difficulty.

When the process began, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) came under fire for convening a working group to craft legislation that only included men. 

McConnell stressed that all his members were welcome at the talks. Democrats then pivoted, attacking Republicans for crafting the legislation in secret, without the customary markups or hearings.

“To have a bill that was done in a back room with a limited number of people to give input with probably a lot of cigars, and steak and whiskey involved is a bunch of garbage,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is up for reelection in 2018 in a state carried by President Trump. 

Tensions were heightened further when the Pro-Trump group America Policies First targeted Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) over his opposition to the bill. That move reportedly angered McConnell, who needs Heller’s vote, and the group pulled its ads after a closed-door White House meeting.

Meanwhile, Democrats have remained united. 

That unity wasn’t always a given, with 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in states won by Trump. In other fights, Republicans have been able to pick off a few vulnerable red-state incumbents. 

Democrats say their ability to stick together was helped, in part, by the GOP decision in January to use reconciliation — allowing them to pass a bill without needing Democratic votes — and their refusal to take ObamaCare repeal off the table. 

“They went down a path that was not only bad policy it was bad politics,” Cardin said. “I think what unites us is we want to start with the law, not repeal the law.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is up for reelection and has broken with Democrats to support some of Trump’s nominees, echoed that position. 

“We’re willing to sit down and talk about this. But you can’t just say repeal is out there and it has to be repeal or nothing. That’s a political promise,” he told Fox News recently.

Democrats are hitting the healthcare legislation’s Medicaid cuts hard, using it to message that the Senate bill hurts the poorest Americans. The legislation phases out Medicaid expansion over three years, beginning in 2021, and includes deeper Medicaid cuts than the House’s bill starting in 2025. 

The CBO, at the request of Senate Democrats, also examined the long-term impact on Medicaid from the healthcare bill. What the agency found provided yet another talking point for Democrats: The legislation would cut Medicaid spending by 35 percent over the next 20 years.

Democrats are showing no signs of backing down as Congress heads into a weeklong recess.

After Trump pitched separating repeal and replacement on Friday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) shot back that the idea would cause an “apocalypse.”  

“CBO scored this basic scenario last year and it’s an apocalypse. 32m lose coverage. Premiums double. This is going from dumb to dumber,” Murphy tweeted, referencing the analysis for the 2015 repeal bill. 

Schumer has pledged that Democrats will be at events in their home states to keep the fight in the spotlight. 

When asked if there were any particular aspects of the bill to highlight over the recess, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) referenced the CBO score. 

“It kicks 15 million people off of healthcare in the first year and that rises to 22 million in a decade. I’m not sure how much more than that we need,” he said. 

But Democrats are stopping short of predicting they’ll be victorious next month, stressing they expect McConnell to work overtime to secure 50 votes. 

“This thing is not over,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told MSNBC. “This should definitely not be a time when we think that this battle is through. We need folks to put more pressure on.” 

Tags Ben Cardin Bob Corker Chris Coons Chris Murphy Chuck Schumer Dean Heller Joe Manchin Jon Tester Mitch McConnell

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