Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
The president of the United States has had another busy day saying stuff on Twitter. Clearly still upset over the latest — and seemingly final — failure of the GOP Senate to repeal and (maybe) replace Obamacare, Trump launched into a questionable several-tweet attack on the legislative filibuster on Saturday morning. Trump urged Republican senators, who he said “look like fools and are just wasting time,” to “go to 51 votes NOW and WIN,” despite the fact that the GOP couldn’t muster the 51 votes they needed to pass a “skinny” repeal of Obamacare on Thursday. Later in the day, the filibuster complaints out of his system, Trump switched to threats, suggesting that he would end federal cost-sharing payments to health insurance companies as well as come after the health coverage offered to members of Congress and their staffs.
“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Trump insisted.
Members of Congress and their staff have to get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, but an Obama administration rule allows them to get subsidies from the government to help pay for that coverage, which is a standard employer-provided benefit. Conservative activists have wanted to get rid of those subsidies, however, and that’s what Trump is now warning he’ll do if he doesn’t get some kind of health care bill to sign and have a Rose Garden ceremony for.
Regarding the other component, Trump was also threatening, as he has before, to end the federal government’s payments to insurance companies, which they receive to help offset the cost of subsidizing health insurance for low-income Americans. The subsidies are required by the ACA, and insurance companies insist that if they lost this federal funding they would have to significantly raise their premiums in order recover the cost of the subsidies. The Trump administration has continued making those payments on a month to month basis, but the White House has refused to commit to them long-term and could withhold the funding as part of a strategy to sink the health insurance exchanges and force Obamacare into a death spiral. Trump likes to refer to this as “letting” Obamacare “implode,” but in fact it amounts to the president threatening to hold the cost of Americans’ health insurance hostage in order to get what he wants.
Trump’s morning tweets weren’t his only forays into the subject on Saturday, as he later added that, “Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!”
While the president says a lot of things, and a lot of wrong things, in this case he appears to be correct — at least to some extent. Three GOP senators actually do seem to be trying to reanimate the party’s health care effort, again, though it’s doubtful they’ll get very far. Senators Lindsey Graham, Dean Heller, and Bill Cassidy met with Trump on Friday looking to come up with a new health care plan that 50 Republican senators would support. Regarding that effort, Politico reports that:
The proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) would block grant federal health care funding to the states and keep much of Obamacare’s tax regime. White House officials also met with House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to brainstorm how to make the idea palatable to conservatives, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.
Trump, who has regularly demonstrated a limited understanding of how America’s representative government functions, is apparently optimistic about their plan. He shouldn’t be. Neither Graham nor Meadows will have a good chance of accomplishing their tasks, at least from how we’ve seen GOP lawmakers vote so far. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell would likely need a lot of convincing, since he finally admitted it was “time to move on” after the skinny repeal bill died this week, and he indicated that he would like input from Democrats regarding future health care lawmaking. Cassidy has famously pushed for a bipartisan solution in the past, but any bipartisan plan would probably be dead-on-arrival with the conservatives Meadows would have to win over. The plan to use a budget reconciliation-focused plan to gut Obamacare is unlikely to garner enough support, either.
Furthermore, as Politico goes on to point out, it would take another motion-to-proceed to open Senate debate on any future plan, and good luck with that. The only reason McConnell had the votes to do that this past week was because Senator John McCain, who is fighting brain cancer, flew back to DC to vote for it. He then went on to cast the deciding vote which killed skinny repeal, later insisting that the GOP’s future health care reform efforts include Democrats. McCain has now flown back home to Arizona to continue fighting his brain cancer and says he won’t return until after the August recess. The GOP Senate’s only stalwart moderates, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, remain unlikely to sign on to another repeal and replace debate, either.
It remains to be seen if Trump’s threats will have any impact on lawmakers, but the president is not exactly operating from a position of strength after yet another week which could be arguably called the worst of his presidency — and which ended in a long-overpromised, yet still-historically early White House shakeup in the firing of chief of staff Reince Priebus. Indeed, for the first time, it seems that a wide range of Republicans, and even some Trump voters, are finally losing patience with the president.