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Schumer Outlines Some Democratic Priorities for Health Care

The Democratic leader wants the two parties to work together

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference in the Capitol to discuss the defeat of the Republicans’ healthcare bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., conducts a news conference in the Capitol to discuss the defeat of the Republicans’ healthcare bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he hopes Democrats and Republicans can work together to address health care, and he has a few ideas about what they should tackle first.

Senate Republicans failed earlier in the day to garner enough votes for a last-ditch effort to repeal major components of the Affordable Care Act. Their push to fulfill a years-long promise to repeal Obamacare ended — at least for the time being — with a dramatic 49-51 vote around 2 a.m. on Friday. So Democrats, led by Schumer, are saying they want to work with Republicans to fix the Affordable Care Act instead of dismantling it. 

“I hope we can work together in a bipartisan way, and I’m optimistic that that can happen,” the New York Democrat said at a Friday press conference. “I think at the very beginning we should stabilize the system.”

Schumer said the first priority should be making permanent subsidies that cover health insurance costs, known as cost-sharing reduction payments. One possible avenue for addressing that would be the upcoming government funding negotiations, but making those payments permanent would likely draw the ire of conservatives who oppose funding the subsidies.

Schumer also pointed to a few pieces of legislation that could be considered, including reinsurance plans Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, as well as a proposal being worked on by GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. 

Addressing rural communities that have limited insurance options would be another health care priority, Schumer said. He cited Sen. Claire McCaskill’s bill allowing those in rural counties with no insurers participating in the individual markets to enroll in the exchange used by lawmakers and their staffs as a potential possibility. 

“That’s what we should do initially. But then we should sit down and trade ideas,” Schumer said.

He said the two leaders of the Senate Health Education Labor Pensions Committee — Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray from Washington — were already in discussions, and he would hopeful they would hold health care hearings.

Other Republicans signaled their desire to return to the committee process and regular order to come up with a solution, including Arizona’s John McCain, who voted against the bill, and Ohio’s Rob Portman, who voted for it. 

“I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on common-sense solutions on behalf of Ohio families who are suffering under the failed status quo. I hope the Senate Finance Committee, on which I serve, will announce a series of health care hearings,” Portman said in a Friday statement. 

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Friday night that the Democrats’ ideas might be non-starters with Republicans. 

“I bet I’m pretty safe in saying for most on this side of the aisle — that bailing out insurance companies with no thought of any kind of reform, is not something I want to be part of,” McConnell said. “And I suspect there are not many folks over here that are interested in that. But it’ll be interesting to see what [Democrats] have in mind.”

President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning that Congress should “let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” One way the system could break down is if the CSR payments are no longer funded.

Schumer sharply criticized the president’s suggestion, calling his tweet “small” and “not what a president does,” noting millions could be affected if the law collapses.

“I hope our Senate colleagues, our House colleagues on his side of the aisle, turn a deaf ear to that,” Schumer said. “This idea of sabotage is a very bad thing and Donald Trump doesn’t even get it politically, because if he sabotages the system it’s going to hurt him as well as millions of Americans.”

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