US President Donald Trump on Friday barged into Senate Republicans’ delicate healthcare negotiations, declaring that if lawmakers cannot reach a deal they should simply repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and then replace it later on.
Trump’s tweet revives an approach that Republican Party leaders and the president himself considered, but dismissed months ago as impractical and politically unwise.
It is also likely to further complicate Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s task as he struggles to bridge the divide between moderate and conservative Republicans.
“If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” Trump wrote.
The president sent his early-morning tweet shortly after Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska appeared on Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends to talk about a letter he had sent to Trump making that exact suggestion: a vote on repealing former US President Barack Obama’s health law, followed by a new effort at working out a replacement.
Trump is a known Fox & Friends viewer, but Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky also claimed credit for recommending the tactic to the president in a conversation earlier in the week.
“Senator Rand Paul suggested this very idea to the president,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said. “The senator fully agrees that we must immediately repeal Obamacare and then work on replacing it right away.”
Trump’s suggestion has the potential to harden divisions within the Republican Party as conservatives such as Paul and Sasse complain that McConnell’s bill does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare, while moderates criticize it as overly harsh in kicking people off insurance roles, shrinking the Medicaid safety net and increasing premiums for older Americans.
McConnell told reporters after an event on Friday in Kentucky that the healthcare bill remains challenging, but “we are going to stick with that path.”
“It’s not easy making America great again, is it?” McConnell said.
Moderates were spooked as the week began with a Congressional Budget Office finding that McConnell’s draft bill would result in 22 million people losing insurance over the next decade, only 1 million fewer than under the House-passed legislation which Trump privately told senators was “mean.”
However, conservatives continue to insist that the bill must go further than just repealing some of the mandates and taxes in Obamacare.
“It’s distressing to see so many Republicans who’ve lied about their commitment to repeal,” Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a conference call on Friday.
Conservative group leaders on the conference call welcomed Trump’s suggestion, but said it did not go far enough because it could open the door to a subsequent bipartisan compromise to replace Obamacare.
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