An evidently frustrated President Donald Trump went on another signature tweetstorm Saturday, threatening to end federal subsidies for health insurance that benefits both the poorest Americans and members of Congress. After a week in which the Senate Republican majority pointedly failed to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, Trump tweeted that if a new bill isn’t approved “quickly” then “BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Confused? Reuters explains:
The first part of Trump’s tweet appeared to be referring to the approximately $8 billion in cost-sharing reduction subsidies paid by the federal government to insurers to lower the price of health coverage for low-income individuals.
The second part of the tweet appeared to be a threat to end the employer contribution for members of Congress and their staffs who were moved from the normal federal employee healthcare benefits program onto the Obamacare insurance exchanges as part of the 2010 healthcare law.
The Obama administration had ruled that these contributions could continue, flowing through the District of Columbia insurance exchange.
A move of this nature would inject chaos into the insurance markets considering that so many low-income (and even moderate-income) people depend on the subsidies to be able to afford health care. At the same time though, several conservative groups have been urging the president to do away with the subsidies to members of Congress to send a message. “Senators should finally subject themselves to the same burdens imposed upon their constituents,” Heritage Action president Michael Needham wrote in the Independent Journal Review earlier this week.
Although Trump may see his words against congressional health care as a way to gain some “populist points with his base,” it would also “likely come at a cost of poisoning his relationship with Congress,” notes the Los Angeles Times. Relations with Congress are already strained not just due to the failure of the Obamacare repeal but also because Trump fired Reince Priebus, “an establishment Republican who was the GOP congressional leadership’s trusted liaison in the White House.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy took to Twitter to point out that “this is a very serious moment” because Trump is “making personal threats to us and our constituents if we don’t pass his bill.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused the president of “playing politics with people’s lives and health care.”
The president’s threats came shortly after he harshly criticized Republicans, writing on Twitter that “they look like fools” for their failure to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The president used that criticism to once again blast the Senate’s filibuster rules, saying Republicans “will NEVER win” if they don’t get rid of a rule that requires a 60-vote majority for some bills. With that rule in place “many great Republican bills will never pass,” the president warned. That seemed to put in evidence Trump’s “uncertain understanding of the legislative process,” as the New York Times puts it, because the filibuster rules had nothing to do with the failure of the health care legislation this past week.
The Washington Post tries to make sense of the president’s logic:
Trump knows that some health-care bills could pass through the Senate with a simple majority of votes. Friday’s “skinny repeal” bill could have done it with only 50, for example.
But Republicans need to kill the filibuster anyway, Trump argues, lest it allow Democrats to block a more sweeping health-care reform bill — which does not yet exist but will be supported by a majority of senators (but not 60 of them) once it is written.
Making it clear that he isn’t giving up on health care, Trump insisted the efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare aren’t dead “unless the Republican Senators are total quitters.”