WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump leaned on Republican senators Wednesday to keep the party’s pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare by reviving negotiations, while a CBO review found their newest approach would starkly increase premiums and the number of uninsured.
At a White House luncheon attended by 49 of the 52 Republican senators, the president gave among his lengthiest remarks to date on the health care debate, listing the GOP’s priorities.
“Our premiums will be substantially lower,” he said, adding that he also seeks the repeal of burdensome taxes, the restoration of choice and protection of the pre-existing conditions.
Later in the day, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that scrapping Obamacare without a substitution would leave 32 million more without coverage by 2026 while reducing the federal deficit by $473 billion.
Average premiums in the non-group market — those who buy insurance through the marketplaces or directly from insurers — would increase by about 25 percent next year and roughly 50 percent in 2020, according to the report. Premiums would about double by 2026, it concluded.
A White House spokesman responded that the CBO’s methodology is “flawed” and the score doesn’t account for the replacement law and administrative actions that make up Trump’s full plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) had said earlier in the day that he planned to hold a procedural vote next week in pursuit of immediately repealing many provisions of the Affordable Care Act and creating a two-year timeframe in which to draft a replacement.
McConnell was among the senators hosted by Trump at the luncheon, which served as a renewed effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act after a bill laying out a replacement collapsed with the defection of four Republicans.
“We’re close,” Trump told the group. “I’m ready to act.”
On Tuesday, in the wake of the failure to secure enough Republican support for the Better Care Reconciliation Act, Trump had said the GOP should do nothing and leave the Democrats to be blamed for Obamacare’s implosion.
“We’re probably in that position where we’ll just let Obamacare fail,” he said then. “We’re not going to own it; I’m not going to own it.”
On Wednesday, he said he wanted senators back at the table, asking that they delay their summer recess until a deal is made.
He reminded them that they now have a fellow Republican in the White House.
“I have pen in hand. You never had that before,” Trump said. “You know for seven years, you had an easy route — ‘We’ll repeal, we’ll replace and he’s never going to sign it.’ — but I’m signing it. So it’s a little bit different.”
The GOP leadership has struggled with drafting legislation that can earn the support from both the moderate and the conservative ends of the party’s spectrum.
McConnell stressed to his members that the repeal-now, replace-later approach would mean time to rework details.
“What I’m telling you is no harm is done by getting on the bill,” he told reporters after the luncheon, adding that it would be “wide open for amendment. No matter what I offer as a substitute first, it’s fully amendable.”
Trump implied during the gathering that GOP legislators may pay at the ballot box for any failure to uproot Obamacare, taking a playful jab at Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, a crucial vote in the process.
“He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump asked.
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters it was not a veiled threat and the president would support Heller in his next re-election campaign.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the CBO report further proof that Republicans would not be able to deliver for their constituents without working with Democrats.
“President Trump and Republicans have repeatedly promised to lower premiums and increase coverage, yet each proposal they offer would do the opposite,” Schumer said.
The CBO report said the repeal-first would create downward pressure on enrollment and upward pressure on premiums.
That environment would leave about half the nation’s population in areas with no insurer participating in the nongroup market in 2020 and three-quarters of the population in the situtation by 2026, it determined.
Short and White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back against reporters’ questions on whether the president would give up weekends at his golf courses in Bedminster, New Jersey, and elsewhere and stay in Washington, D.C. to work on health care — as he has asked senators to do.
“I think the president will be traveling, but I imagine members will be traveling, too,” Short said.