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Trump Might Be Open to Earlier Freeze of Medicaid Expansion

Spokesman says president willing to listen to ideas on health plan

Trump, gesturing at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is open to changes to the House health care bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Trump, gesturing at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is open to changes to the House health care bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The White House appeared Friday to not rule out altering a Republican-crafted health care overhaul measure by accelerating a Medicaid expansion roll back, a move that could garner more conservative votes, although it could jeopardize support from GOP moderates and senators from states who have used the program to cover the uninsured.

The bill, which has been approved by two key House committees, would nix the 2010 health law’s expansion of the entitlement program in 2020. That’s not soon enough for many House conservatives, and a reason why the White House and GOP leaders appear to lack the 218 votes needed to send the overhaul measure to the Senate.

“Right now, the date that’s in the bill is what the president supports,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Friday. But President Donald Trump is willing to listen to other ideas, his top spokesman said.

Spicer’s answer to a follow-up question about whether Trump would negotiate the Medicaid provision was murky. At first, he replied simply, “Right.” But a moment later, he said “it’s not a question of negotiation – we have a date in the bill and that’s the date in the bill.” But he was empatic that the president continues to take suggestions from lawmakers, seeming to leave open the possibility of moving the expansion sunset date.

“The president’s also been very clear through all of the discussions … that as he meets with members of Congress and outside groups, that if someone’s got an idea that can make this legislation more accessible, give more choice to the American people, drive down costs, make it more patient-centric,” Spicer said, “he wants to listen to it.”

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Both the House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee have called for the change.

Earlier Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy pushed back, saying, “right now, that would be very difficult to do.”

Most of the action between the White House and Congress in recent weeks has focused on the health care overhaul push. But that wasn’t all on the agenda at Friday’s briefing.

The administration wants to finalize its fiscal 2018 budget request, then use that to inform talks with Capitol Hill about funding the government for the rest of the current fiscal year. Stop-gap funding for fiscal 2017 currently expires April 28.

“They go hand-in-hand. You need to close our FY-17, then our budget lays out where we want to go FY-18,” Spicer said in response to a question from CQ Roll Call. “And I think once we have a handle on FY-18, we can start to backfill 2017.”

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Steve Bell, a former Senate aide now with the Bipartisan Policy Center, puts ehe odds of a late-April shutdown at “50-50.”

“Much depends upon the size of the anticipated defense/security supplemental — which would increase deficits unless all of the reported $30 billion is [overseas contingency operations monies] or emergency,” Bell said Friday.

“If deficit hawks hold their noses and vote to extend the debt limit, and vote for repeal and replace even if it increases deficit/debt,” Bell said, “then it might be hard to get them to vote for large deficits that will be contained in the FY-17 appropriations bills.”

Spicer also was posed several questions about whether Trump knew that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, needed to be registered as a “foreign agent” over work he did on behalf of the Turkish government.

He replied that, legally, it was up to Flynn to register himself.

“We did the right thing then” when Trump transition officials, prior to taking office, directed Flynn to take the information to the right lawyers, Spicer said. He declined again to say whether Trump would have hired him had he known.

Finally, Spicer confirmed that Trump has invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House. He did not say whether Abbas has accepted, nor when the visit might take place.

Joe Williams contributed to this report.

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