August 02, 2017
The calendar may have changed, but the Senate's priorities haven't. After last week's health care collapse, the chamber may be handling other business -- but the behind-the-scenes work on the Obamacare repeal goes on. "We're continuing to [get cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office on] some of the options on health care," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters this week. "There's still an opportunity to do that."
While the media insists the fight is over, Senate Republicans are already taking another run at a replacement plan. Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La.) has already made a trip to the White House to talk through his ideas for shifting block grants and dealing with the Medicaid expansion. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has also been on the phone with the Oval Office. With two more months left on the clock to get something done, there's a quiet hope that Republicans can still keep their biggest promise to voters. "Obviously, we didn't give up and we didn't quit, and we gave it our best shot, and we can come back to this at a later time," Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said.
President Trump, meanwhile, has threatened to act now. On Twitter, he hinted at some executive action to speed along Obamacare's implosion. "If Obamacare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn't it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays?" As far as the White House is concerned, millions of Americans have been hurt by Obamacare while the insurance companies get rich off of the government's investment in the failed law. Under the last administration, the White House agreed to send billions of dollars to insurers to help cover the cost of the premium subsidies and guard against any major losses from the tanking exchanges. Those payments ($7 billion a year) or "bail outs," as President Trump call them, were never approved -- or appropriated -- by Congress. Last year, the House sued the Obama administration, arguing that only members have the authority to approve payments like those. A judge ruled in the House's favor, but "an appeal filed by the Obama administration allowed the CSR payments to continue as the case moved its way through the courts."
Like the GOP, Donald Trump understands that the insurance industry has come to rely on that "cost-sharing" to keep their Obamacare plans afloat. To put the pressure on insurers, and quicken Obamacare's demise, the White House is threatening to stop the payments that have helped stabilize the market in the health care freefall. As Trump told Republicans Friday, "Let Obamacare implode, then deal." Canceling the checks to insurance companies would be one way to guarantee the implosion is sooner, rather than later, putting pressure on both Senate Republicans and Democrats to act.
Companies have been relying on those taxpayer dollars to help keep costs down. Without those billions, sky-high premiums would spike even more, creating major chaos in the market. Consumers, who are already bearing the brunt of Obamacare's failure, would be on the hook for even more as insurers pass on the costs to help make up the difference. This would be particularly painful for Congress, since members -- and their staffs -- get health insurance on the Obamacare exchange. "What he's saying is, look, if Obamacare is hurting people, and it is, then why shouldn't it hurt insurance companies and, more importantly perhaps for this discussion, members of Congress?" Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, told CNN.
It's just another twist in a congressional drama that voters are praying ends in Obamacare's repeal. Until then, President Trump and Republicans seem intent on using every bit of leverage to keep the debate going. And for Americans burdened by this disaster of a health care law, that's good news.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.