A few weeks ago, President Obama defended his signature health care law as “more than a website”; now lawmakers on both sides are increasingly taking this position as well.
Senate hearings this week showed both parties shifting their Obamacare narratives beyond the rocky rollout of the enrollment website to how the law itself will work more broadly.
“Before we get into the details, I think everyone should take a deep breath,” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday at the hearing with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. “This is, after all, a website. This is a machine that will be fixed.”
Democrats expressing confidence that the website will be fixed is not surprising, but Republicans are notably assuming the same.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to fix the website,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.
Both sides remain concerned, but in the grand scheme, two months of website problems — assuming it is running successfully by the end of November — are less important than how the law operates once the website is no longer standing in its way.
On that point, however, lawmakers remain as polarized as ever.
“What I’m more concerned about,” Alexander continued, “are the canceled policies and the inability of people to have time, after you presumably fix the website by the end of November, to replace their policies by Jan. 1 so they’ll actually have health insurance.”
For Republicans, concerns like insurance-policy cancellations and premium increases are indicative of larger problems with the law that need to be addressed.
“The website’s not working? Fine, let’s fix it,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Wednesday with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “But the law is not working. Isn’t it time for a timeout so that we can go in and start finding out why we are seeing premiums go up, not down; why we are seeing people canceled, not being protected in their health care; why we are seeing the failure of the promised operation of the law to occur.”
Democrats’ concerns, on the other hand, are more focused on missed outreach and enrollment.
“What, in your view, Madam Secretary, could Democratic and Republican senators here on the Finance Committee do to make the latest health reforms a success the way the Medicare prescription-drug program has been?” asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The senator drew an oft-made comparison to the now revered Medicare Part D Program that had a notoriously rough start as well.
“I think that it is always welcome to have elected officials in their home states give information to constituents about what the law says, what their options are, what their benefits could be, what choices they have and how to access the process,” Sebelius responded.
There is still much work to be done to fix the website this month. “I would say there are a couple of hundred functional fixes that have been identified,” Sebelius said. “It’s a pretty aggressive schedule to get to the entire punch list by the end of November.”
Yet as improvements continue to be made, lawmakers are increasingly moving beyond HealthCare.gov, and looking forward in terms of implementation of the law.
“Months ago I warned that if the implementation didn’t improve, the marketplaces might struggle,” said Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., of the infamous “train wreck” quote. “We heard multiple times that everything was on track. We now know that was not the case. But that’s in the past. Now it’s time to more forward to figure out how to fix it.”
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As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."
President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."
"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."