WASHINGTON — Partisan lines in the Senate hardened Tuesday as Republicans promised to fast track the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to quickly approve presidential nominees in January, an agenda Democrats vowed to fight.
Democrats will oppose the repeal and confront President-elect Donald Trump’s appointments with thorough vetting and tough questions, said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the incoming Senate minority leader.
Schumer even predicted Republicans might join Democrats in blocking Trump’s choice Tuesday of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services because he wants to take the unpopular path to “privatize Medicare.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said as soon as Congress reconvenes on Jan. 3 Senate Republicans will start the repeal process and will begin holding confirmation hearings on Trump’s nominations.
“I can tell you where we’re going to start, with a process to repeal and replace Obamacare,” McConnell said after the weekly caucus luncheons.
“We hope on January 20, even though there’s a lot going on that day, we hope to be able to vote on and confirm a number of the president’s selections for the cabinet so he can get started,” he said, referring to Inauguration Day.
Schumer said he had urged the 48 members of his caucus to conduct “thorough vetting” and pose “strong questions” to all of Trump’s nominees — although as the minority party they cannot block anyone without Republican votes.
The Senate’s 52 Republicans only need 51 votes to confirm Trump’s nominees. That’s because Democrats when they were in the majority in 2013 stripped the minority’s ability to use filibusters to require 60 votes to approve appointments, except to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Still, Schumer said the health care changes proposed by Price, an orthopedic surgeon and tea party member, raise concerns even among some Republicans. “I think there is a chance his nomination may fail,” Schumer said.
Price has proposed to overhaul Medicare by upping its eligibility age to 67 and replacing its defined benefits with a requirement that participants buy health care policies directly from commercial insurance companies using federal subsidies.
Price also has proposed replacing the Affordable Care Act with tax credits to subsidize individual and family payments for private health policies, allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines and creating high-risk pools for ailing individuals to buy coverage. He’s also for barring abortions and defunding Planned Parenthood.
“When it comes to issues like Medicare, the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, Congressman Price and the average American couldn’t be further apart,” Schumer said.
“As we have said many times, there will be issues where we can work with the president-elect and his party. Privatizing Medicare is not one of those issues,” Schumer said. “To Republicans considering going down this path, my advice is simple: Turn back.”