Democrats’ Budget Priorities Don’t Include Obamacare Bills

Democrats are focusing on other goals, such as funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program, rather than prioritizing passage of Obamacare stabilization bills

Senate Budget Committee members Ron Wyden and Patty Murray during a hearing to consider fiscal 2018 reconciliation legislation on Nov. 28.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Dec. 11, 2017, 8 p.m.

Congress’s ability to solve a series of year-end puzzles on health care, spending, and possibly immigration may well depend on a key question: What do Democrats want most?

Democrats are eager to see funding extensions for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers as soon as possible. They want some increases in domestic spending and eventually, they’d like a solution to the issue of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. They’d also like to see measures passed that might stabilize Obamacare’s marketplaces.

But with Republicans in charge, Democrats can’t have it all. And the health measures that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed in order to get the tax bill passed out of the chamber seem to be a lower priority for the Democrats, while many House Republicans are reluctant to take them up at all.

McConnell told Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that he would support passage of two Obamacare-stabilization bills: one that would provide cost-sharing-reduction payments and another that would fund reinsurance programs. In return, Collins voted for the tax bill that included the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance.

The best chance for passing either piece of legislation by the end of the year is to attach them to the spending deal. But House GOP leadership has thrown a wrench into this idea after promising Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker that cost-sharing payments would not be included.

And there does not appear to be much momentum behind these bills from the Democrats; they want to defeat the repeal of the individual mandate to begin with.

Sen. Ron Wyden, who named wildfire prevention and treatment as well as protecting safety-net programs as his top priorities, cast doubt on the idea that these measures would be helpful in stabilizing the health care market should the individual mandate be removed.

“When you devastate the health care system, I think Senator [Patty] Murray and Senator [Bill] Nelson would say you don’t get everybody well again by having some reinsurance or some cost-sharing, you just don’t,” said Wyden, naming the Democratic cosponsors for both measures.

Instead, Democrats have a different health care add-on for the year-end spending bill: to fund CHIP and community health centers. Funding for both expired at the end of September and the short-term continuing resolution passed last week included a patch for states about to run out of CHIP funding.

House Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone named funding for CHIP and community health centers as the two main December goals for his committee. When it came to the health-care-stabilization measures, he said he would be willing to support them, but cast doubt on whether Republicans would act on those bills. “I would obviously support that, but the most important thing is CHIP and community health centers,” he said.

Other Democrats indicated that the importance of the Obamacare-stabilization legislation depends on the final outcome for the GOP tax bill.

“The tax bill and the budget are now all conflated, because if you’re going to get rid of the individual mandate and you’re not going to do something to stabilize the markets, millions of people are going to lose their insurance and everybody else’s insurance rates are going to go up,” Rep. Diana DeGette said. She added that she would probably support a government funding bill with cost-sharing payments in it, but that she would have to see what the entire legislation looked like.

At a press conference last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi displayed a poster with year-end budget priorities that did not include health-care-market stabilization, though she did not rule out its being included. “However, what we have to do is defeat this tax scam first,” she said.

In the end, it’s the Senate that is in a tight box when it comes to the tax-reform bill because of Collins. “The Republicans in the Senate could say, ‘No, we’re not doing this,’ and dare her to vote against the tax bill,” said Molly Reynolds, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “They have no room to maneuver.”

Reynolds noted, though, that if there appears to be a bloc of House conservatives who are going to object to the spending bill anyway for other reasons, there would be less incentive for leadership to keep the Obamacare-stabilization bills out of the deal.

Collins, for her part, appears confident that the promises made to her will be honored by Senate leaders and the White House.

“I’ve talked to the president three times about this issue, and once again I have no reason to believe that that commitment will not be kept,” she said on Face the Nation. “After all, who wants to see health insurance premiums become more unaffordable than they already are for individuals who are buying insurance in the individual market?”

What We're Following See More »
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

Source:
COULD SOW DIVISION AMONG REPUBLICANS
House Will Condemn Emergency Declaration
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose."

Source:
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION, DRUG FORFEITURE FUND
Where Will the Emergency Money Come From?
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"ABC News has learned the president plans to announce on Friday his intention to spend about $8 billion on the border wall with a mix of spending from Congressional appropriations approved Thursday night, executive action and an emergency declaration. A senior White House official familiar with the plan told ABC News that $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed Thursday; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget."

Source:
TRUMP SAYS HE WILL SIGN
House Passes Funding Deal
3 days ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed a massive border and budget bill that would avert a shutdown and keep the government funded through the end of September. The Senate passed the measure earlier Thursday. The bill provides $1.375 billion for fences, far short of the $5.7 billion President Trump had demanded to fund steel walls. But the president says he will sign the legislation, and instead seek to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login