Instead of a Graham-Cassidy health care bill, might we end up with ... Trump-Schumer?
At long last, President Donald Trump is now saying he’s ready to work with Democrats on health care. He confirmed in a Saturday morning tweet that he called Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Friday “to see if the Dems want to do a great HealthCare Bill.”
I called Chuck Schumer yesterday to see if the Dems want to do a great HealthCare Bill. ObamaCare is badly broken, big premiums. Who knows!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2017
The tweet confirms a Friday night report of the Trump-Schumer phone call by Jonathan Swan of Axios, who heard of the information from worried Republican sources. Schumer released a statement Saturday saying that, on the call, he told Trump that “repeal and replace” was off the table, and suggested starting instead with a bill to stabilize the current system.
The news fits into a pattern of recent attempts by Trump to deal with Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi after frustration with his own party’s failures. In early September, the president simply agreed to Schumer and Pelosi’s preferences on how to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling. Soon afterward, Trump met with Schumer and Pelosi privately to discuss a deal on protecting the DREAMers — though no deal has been finalized.
But this brief boom of bipartisanship was derailed later in September, as Senate Republicans tried yet again to pass Obamacare repeal along partisan lines, this time with the Graham-Cassidy bill.
That effort failed, and Republicans’ ability to use the special “budget reconciliation” process for Obamacare repeal expired as of September 30. And while it’s possible the GOP could make another try at a reconciliation health bill, for now the party appears to be focused on tax reform — meaning any health care bill would need 60 votes to advance through the Senate.
Republicans have suggested that, once they get tax reform done, they’ll take yet another shot at a partisan Obamacare repeal effort through reconciliation. And President Trump himself repeatedly made the bizarre and seemingly untrue claim that he already had secured enough Republican votes to pass a bill and simply hadn’t done so because of a senator’s illness. (This claim puzzled much of Washington, and seems best explained as Trump trying to avoid looking like a failure.)
With one Yes vote in hospital & very positive signs from Alaska and two others (McCain is out), we have the HCare Vote, but not for Friday!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2017
In any case, it’s hard to know whether Republicans will get another opportunity. Tax reform could take longer than expected, and the Republican “no” votes in the Senate against the GOP’s effort haven’t yet budged. Plus, the expected arrival of Roy Moore to the chamber after December’s special election in Alabama could make the votes for repeal even tougher for Mitch McConnell to wrangle, since Moore has promised to oppose any bill that wouldn’t fully repeal Obamacare.
So it makes sense that, with nothing else going for him on health care at the moment, Trump has called up Schumer to talk a deal. And a deal isn’t impossible to imagine, considering Trump seems to lack any specific policy preferences on health care, and occasionally has sounded like a Democrat when discussing the issue (promising to cover everyone and not to cut Medicare or Medicaid). Whether Congressional Republicans would go along with a Trump-Schumer health care deal, though, is more uncertain.
For his part, Schumer released a statement stressing that he and Democrats would be happy to talk about how “to improve the existing health care system,” though not “repeal.” He added: “A good place to start might be the Alexander-Murray negotiations that would stabilize the system and lower costs.”
By this Schumer is referring to talks that have been taking place between Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on a bill to stabilize the individual marketplaces. Again, though, whether anti-Obamacare House Republicans in particular will pass a bill to shore up the program remains uncertain.