With Donald Trump just 12 days from entering the White House, Republicans have positioned a repeal of Obama’s prized health care statute atop their congressional agenda. Democrats are trying to capitalize on the GOP’s lack of replacement legislation, which has unsettled some Republican senators who worry about yanking health coverage from millions of voters without a substitute.
“We cannot allow Republicans to make America sick again by repealing the ACA without a replacement plan,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement, using the acronym for Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Democrats set their talk-a-thon for late Monday as Senate Republicans pushed toward a final vote this week on a budget that would shield a future bill repealing Obama’s law from a Democratic filibuster. Once passed by the Senate and later the House, the budget would prevent Senate Democrats from using those delaying tactics, which take 60 votes to halt in a chamber Republicans control by just 52-48.
The speeches were planned as the GOP-run Congress began a second week in session. Besides work on the budget, lawmakers were focused on confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet
In Tuesday’s initial hearings, committees will examine Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Trump’s pick for attorney general, and retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, his choice for homeland security secretary. Seven others were also set for hearings this week.
Also Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee planned a hearing on intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the U.S. election by hacking and distributing Democratic party emails to help Trump win the White House.
Among the witnesses will be FBI Director James Comey. It will be his first public appearance before Congress since he announced just before the election that the FBI was studying additional emails connected to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, a revelation many Democrats say contributed to her defeat by Trump.
Obama’s health care law required most people not insured by employers to purchase coverage, established exchanges where policies are sold and subsidies for many consumers, and expanded Medicaid coverage for lower-earning people. It’s been accompanied by rising costs for many people and some insurers have fled some markets. Republicans who opposed the law en masse from the start say it has failed.
Several GOP senators have said they’d want to wait on repealing the 2010 health care law until a Republican alternative is ready. Though Trump and GOP leaders have described ideas about revamping the nation’s health care system, Republicans have failed for years to unite behind a bill doing that.
In a column posted Monday on FoxNews.com, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stood by leaders’ plans.
“Once repeal is passed we will turn to replacement policies that cost less and work better than what we have now,” McConnell wrote. He said Republicans would replace the law “in manageable pieces,” not one huge bill.
McConnell, who met with Trump in New York Monday morning, said on the Senate floor, “There’s no quick fix to undo the damage” from the health care law and called repeal “just a first step.”
He said Sunday on CBS’ ”Face the Nation” that replacement would follow “rapidly” but did not define the timetable.
Schumer has said if Republicans repeal the health care law, Democrats will not help them craft a new package. That could pose a major problem for Republicans because replacement legislation would likely need 60 votes, meaning at least eight supportive Democrats, to pass the Senate.
McConnell said Monday that he wants Democrats to work with the GOP on an alternative health care bill, saying, “That’s the best way forward. That’s the way I prefer.”
|Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. talks with reporters at Trump Tower in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, after meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)|
Senate Democrats To Hold Late-Night Talkathon Against Obamacare Repeal
WASHINGTON ― Republicans are plowing forward this month with repealing the Affordable Care Act, and Democrats, with little ability to stop them, have plans to make it as politically damaging for them as possible.
On Monday night, Senate Democrats plan to stay up late, delivering floor speeches and Facebook Live broadcasts attacking the Republicans’ drive to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. They will also pressure Republicans over their push to defund Planned Parenthood and to make significant cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) organized the effort, which will include multiple conference calls with a range of groups from Families USA, to Planned Parenthood, to the Service Employees International Union. Several dozen Democratic senators are expected to participate.
Republicans have said they want to have Obamacare repeal legislation ready to send to the White House soon after President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20. But last week, a growing number of Republican senators expressed concern over congressional leaders’ willingness to repeal the law without having a replacement, or at least a framework, ready to go.
“We are taking to the floor and social media to denounce this plan and warn the American people that the Democrats will be fighting tooth and nail against this potentially catastrophic move,” Schumer said in a statement provided to The Huffington Post.
Monday’s show of force is an effort by Democrats to capitalize, in particular, on that rift among Republicans.
“We cannot allow Republicans to make America sick again by repealing the ACA without a replacement plan that will ensure millions of Americans are not kicked off of their insurance, seniors do not face cuts to their Medicare, women are not denied access to care because of their gender, and many other groups, including Medicaid recipients, rural hospitals and more, do not suffer,” Schumer said. “Right now, the GOP’s plan would put the insurance companies back in the driver’s seat and create chaos in the system instead of affordable care.”
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that “no action is not an option” on Obamacare. Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” McConnell wouldn’t predict when his party would come up with a replacement, only that it would be done “rapidly.”
But the “first step” to repealing the Affordable Care Act “will be taken in the Senate by the end of this week,” he said.
Congressional Democrats have few tools at their disposal and cannot actually stop the repeal. Still, they hope to capture the public’s attention by pointing to the 30 million Americans who stand to lose health insurance if the law is gutted.
How the tables are turning on Obamacare
Republicans warned seven years ago that a health care law passed only by Democrats -- with no support from the other party -- would struggle to survive. The party-line vote to pass Obamacare, they said, was arrogant and reckless.
Now, the GOP is in charge, and poised to run afoul of its own warnings.
As Republican lawmakers begin to dismantle President Barack Obama's landmark health care law, awaiting the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, they face the prospect of overhauling the American health insurance system without any help from across the aisle. Democrats appear increasingly determined to offer Trump's party as little help as possible.
How Trump could use his executive power on Obamacare
GOP efforts to revamp the Affordable Care Act -- some 20 million people are covered through Obamacare while many more have been less directly impacted by the law -- are poised to disrupt millions of Americans' health insurance. If repealing and replacing the ACA ultimately becomes a purely partisan Republican exercise, Obamacare could emerge one of the biggest political liabilities for Trump and his party -- just as it became a problem for Democrats.
Repealing Obamacare affects everyone
Republicans sought to paint the Democrats' passing Obamacare without GOP support as extreme. Democrats are happy to return the favor. Making the difficult task of enacting healthcare reform a millstone for Republicans could end up helping Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, a Republican, said an overhaul of Obamacare would only have "long-term viability" if the GOP can win support from Democratic lawmakers.
"The GOP has indicated publicly that they intend not to make the same mistake that the Democrats did in passing a bill that was not supported in a bipartisan way," Leavitt said. "I think that's wise."
But Democratic votes won't be easy to get. In a Capitol Hill pep talk Wednesday, Obama urged Democrats not to "rescue" Republicans by helping them pass replacement measures, according to sources in the room.
He also floated this idea: Start referring to the GOP's new plan as "Trumpcare."
After the meeting, a White House aide said Obama used "Trumpcare" as an indication he was open to Trump taking credit for improvements.
That is, of course, if Democrats see any changes they like.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, told CNN that Republicans would be making a serious mistake by moving ahead with reforming Obamacare on a purely partisan basis. Durbin went as far as to criticize Republicans for refusing to partner with Democrats on making incremental improvements to Obamacare over the years.
"We've had six years of opportunities to work together on a bipartisan basis to improve or change the Affordable Care Act. They have never, ever, accepted an invitation for that," Durbin said. "Their approach is: repeal it, and once you've repealed it, then we'll think of something new. That's not a responsible approach."
Not that Obama and Democrats didn't try. After Obama took office in 2009, his administration's initial efforts to win over Republican support for healthcare reform went nowhere as one by one, potential GOP allies turned their backs -- and Republican leaders were happy to paint the law as single party over-reach. The healthcare reform bill that landed on the president's desk in March 2010 had not received support from a single GOP lawmaker in the House or Senate.
"The ACA stands in contrast to just about every other piece of major social welfare legislation in the history of this county, which is usually done with bipartisan support," said Tevi Troy, deputy secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.
GOP Rep. Phil Roe, a physician who last week introduced a repeal and replace Obamacare bill in the House, said the law was a "disaster" in large part because Democrats passed it without GOP input.
"I never understood why healthcare is Republican or Democrat issue. I've never seen a Republican or Democrat heart attack in my life," Roe said. "There were nine physicians in the Doctors Caucus at that time. Not one of us was asked one thing about that healthcare bill."
Well before the law was passed, Republicans have used promises to block then repeal Obamacare -- a phrase the GOP started using as a pejorative -- as a political rallying cry to rev up the party's base.
And now that the GOP has the opportunity to dismantle Obamacare, there is no expectation that the party will garner any support from Democrats.
In fact, the vehicle that Republicans are using to roll back major pieces of the law -- a budget resolution followed by a budget reconciliation bill -- is a fast-track process that will allow the GOP to avoid a potential Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
But when it comes to the second and much more complicated task of overhauling Obamacare -- replacing what gets repealed -- Republicans don't yet have a plan.
GOP leaders have so far indicated a preference for the "repeal and delay" approach: passing a repeal bill as soon as possible but delaying the repeal measures from going into effect for several years as they develop a measure to replace the law. But already, rank-and-file Republicans are expressing reservations about moving too fast on repeal when there is little clarity on replace -- and creating a potential political nightmare.
Department Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will warn Congress of the dangers of repeal without replace during a speech Monday in Washington.
"If the Affordable Care Act is repealed without a replacement, the damage to the country's individual insurance market will begin this spring," Burwell will say, according to excerpts. "If health insurance companies don't know what the market will look like going forward, many will either raise prices or drop out. That means more Americans won't be able to afford coverage, and others won't be able to find it at all."
In a sudden role reversal, Republicans are now labeling Democrats obstructionists when it comes to the healthcare law.
"I think it's very unfortunate that (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer has essentially said he's not interested in cooperating," GOP Sen. John Barrasso told CNN in an interview.
Barrasso and his fellow Republicans -- including the President-elect -- are also pressuring Democrats to cooperate.
"It is time for Republicans & Democrats to get together and come up with a healthcare plan that really works - much less expensive & FAR BETTER!" Trump tweeted last week.
Democrats vehemently oppose repealing Obamacare, and only a handful of lawmakers -- moderates and those hailing from conservative areas -- are likely to show a willingness to discuss replacement efforts with Republicans.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat, declined to attend Obama's meeting on Capitol Hill with Democrats last week because he said he opposes any purely partisan conversations about Obamacare.
"I would just caution my friends on the Republican side: the division we've seen in the country is because we had a bill that was passed in 2009 ... without any bipartisan support and now it's about to be repealed without any bipartisan support." Manchin told CNN. "You gotta be careful, throwing the baby out with the bathwater."