Surrounded by what the White House called “victims of Obamacare,” President Donald Trump used the megaphone of his office Monday to try to break a stalemate among Senate Republicans over efforts to repeal the health law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has committed to a procedural vote Tuesday to begin debate on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it remains far from clear that a majority of the Senate will vote “yes.”
Trump aims to change that, addressing the country after chatting with families who have experienced negative consequences of Obamacare. He said Democrats have a chance to make up for their past vote to enact the sweeping health law. He also leaned hard on Republicans to keep their repeated promises to repeal the law.
“Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare,” he said.
Monday marked a continuation of Trump’s more hands-on approach to health care, which began last week when he called Republican senators to the White House. He spoke then with more specificity than he had in the past.
Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, praised the president’s efforts. She noted that he has tried to push the bill across the finish line, often encountering contradictory advice about how to do it.
“The president has done everything he can,” she told LifeZette. “He’s a team player. He’s not, on this at least, gone off on his own.”
Turner said she believes Republicans are closer to repeal after negotiations last week. But she could not say whether the procedural vote Tuesday would attract the necessary 50 “yes” votes.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” she said.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) already has said she would not vote for repeal because it dramatically slows the rate of spending on the Medicaid program for the poor. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) had said she would not vote for a so-called “clean” repeal, which would eliminate much of the law but mostly delay implementation until 2020. She had not committed to the repeal-and-replace plan McConnell offered.
Trump will get a chance to lobby Capito in person as the two travel together on Air Force One to West Virginia.
Other senators are in doubt, too. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) both agreed to vote for the clean repeal but not for the alternative drafted by McConnell. They argued the bill was too much like Obamacare and would not reduce premiums.
On the other side, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) all had expressed concerns over the leadership bill. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), meanwhile, announced he would not vote for a clean repeal.
“The first rule of medicine is to do no harm. But Obamacare’s lies have caused … families like this nothing but pain.”
In an effort to turn up the heat on Senate Republicans, the Tea Party Patriots delivered to McConnell’s office a letter signed by 1.5 million people urging repeal of the health law.
“Once the motion to proceed passes, the bill the Senate sends back to the House must be the 2015 bill to repeal Obamacare, which 51 Republican senators voted for 18 months ago,” Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin said in a prepared statement. “That is the absolute minimum our activists can support and is only the beginning. Congress and the administration will have to continue to work to repeal the rest of Obamacare.”
Highlighting Suffering of Ordinary Americans
Trump tried to bridge the gap in the GOP caucus by highlighting the suffering of ordinary Americans. He pointed to a former police officer from West Virginia whose premium has tripled since Obamacare took effect; a South Carolina couple who worry that their son, with spina bifida, might lose his doctor as the insurance market dwindles; and Illinois small business owners who have watched insurance policies for their youngest child — who has a rare genetic disorder — repeatedly discontinued and replaced.
“The first rule of medicine is to do no harm,” he said. “But Obamacare’s lies have caused … families like this nothing but pain.”
Trump reeled off key provisions of the Senate leadership bill. Mandates that people buy insurance and that larger employers offer it would be eliminated, along with some of the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act. He claimed the bill would lower premiums, stabilize insurance markets, reform Medicaid, and devote an additional $45 billion to fight opioid addiction.
Trump ridiculed Democrats for reflexively opposing Republican efforts.
“They run out there and say, ‘death, death, death,'” he said. “Well, Obamacare is death. That’s the one that’s death. And besides that, it’s failing, so you won’t have it anyway.”
But Trump reserved his harshest words for Republicans who promised to repeal Obamacare — and in most cases voted to do so in 2015 — but now are having second thoughts.
“They kept saying it over and over again,” he said. “Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law. We as a party must fulfill that solemn promise to the voters of this country … But so far, Senate Republicans have not done their job ending the Obamacare nightmare.”