House Democrats want to use the looming battle over government spending and raising the debt limit as leverage to shore up ObamaCare, The Hill reports. The minority party believes Republicans will need their votes on the critical fiscal issues, and they think they can secure concessions on healthcare.
“We could make some kind of provisions part of our negotiations on spending in September,” Representative John Yarmuth, the ranking member of the Budget Committee, told The Hill as Congress was leaving town.
He suggested Democrats attach provisions stabilizing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to must-pass spending legislation. “I’m sure we’ll discuss that,” he said. The government would shut down on October 1 without a new spending measure. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has set a September 29 deadline for raising the nation’s borrowing limit, a date that suggests the two measures could be tied together for simplicity.
Mnuchin also says it should be a “clean” hike, meaning the administration does not support linking spending cuts to the debt limit bill despite demands from Republicans.
This raises the likelihood of Democratic votes being needed to carry the legislation. In the Senate, Democratic votes will also be necessary to prevent or overcome a filibuster. Representative Peter Welch said he’s also open to the idea of tying ObamaCare fixes to the fiscal bills. “We’ll make any effort we can,” he said.
Conservatives in the House are unlikely to back a clean debt limit hike and will want to cut government spending, not continue it. They are also unlikely to agree to the kinds of ObamaCare fixes desired by Democrats. Still, it’s possible Democrats could find help from a handful of Republicans.
Representative Tom Reed, the Republican co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, is weighing “several possible vehicles” to move ObamaCare reforms when Congress returns, according to his office. Reed had voted in favor of repeal earlier in the year, but more recently backed a series of ACA reforms.
“Representative Reed feels strongly that at this point, all options must be considered in order to make responsible solutions a reality for the American people,” Reed’s strategic director Nora Retana said in an email.
The strategy puts moderate Republicans in the awkward position of seeking ways around their leadership to stabilize a law they’ve long promised to repeal. But it also poses some political drawbacks for the Democrats, who have relished watching GOP leaders flounder in their repeal effort and think the Republicans will bear the blame for any problems dogging ObamaCare while they control both Congress the White House. Indeed, Democratic leaders, eyeing big gains at the polls in 2018, have discouraged members from offering ACA fixes throughout most of the year.
That strategy is eroding, however, as rank-and-file Democrats, who were facing mounting pressure at home to offer solutions, have started doing just that. The Problem Solvers group which features 23 Democrats and 20 Republicans has launched a comprehensive plan, proposing a series of reforms designed largely to stabilize ObamaCare’s insurance markets.
Democratic leaders have stopped short of endorsing that package. But leaving Washington for the long August recess, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi vowed that Democrats will support at least one element of the plan, the creation of a “stability fund” to help states reduce premium costs for those with pre-existing conditions, if Republicans will come to the table.
“House Democrats are prepared to support these vital measures and exchange ideas on how we go forward in other respects,” Pelosi wrote in a July 28 letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.