Obamacare subsidies stay for now
BY LESLEY CLARK
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU / TNS
WASHINGTON – Two days before the federal government would run out of money, lawmakers remained at odds Wednesday night – the Florida Courier’s press time – over some details, although one major sticking point between the White House and Democrats was resolved, reducing the likelihood of a shutdown on Friday.
Chiefly, the White House confirmed that payments owed to health insurers under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act will continue, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who spoke twice Wednesday with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Trump had threatened to withhold the payments to force Democrats to the bargaining table on a health care bill. They hailed his retreat.
“Like the withdrawal of money for the wall, this decision brings us closer to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government and is good news for the American people,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The break came after Pelosi and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney clashed over the measure in a call Tuesday night, an aide familiar with the conversation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss negotiations.
It also came after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that the spending bill wouldn’t include the Obamacare language that Democrats wanted in exchange for their support of the measure.
Pelosi told Mulvaney that Democratic negotiators want the payments in the short-term spending resolution. But the aide said Mulvaney had made it clear that, absent congressional action on the measure, the administration would cease making payments. In a statement earlier in the day, Pelosi pointed out that Mulvaney was a “chief architect” of the last government shutdown.
“Our country would be damaged by another Republican government shutdown, and given that Republicans hold the White House and have majorities in both the House and Senate, it is their responsibility to avert such a crisis,” Pelosi said.
No ‘wall’ money
The agreement to continue the payments is the second apparent concession made by the White House, as Trump prepared to mark his 100th day in office on Saturday. Earlier this week, Trump suggested he’s willing, for now, to step back from his controversial bid for money to start construction of a wall at the border with Mexico.
Republicans are likely to need Democratic help to pass the bill, as many conservatives have traditionally declined to vote for similar spending measures.
Republicans have 238 seats in the 435-member House of Representatives, meaning they can afford to lose only 23 GOP votes.
Though the Affordable Care Act payments have been removed from the debate, several other issues remain, including abortion restrictions and money to prop up a pension fund for coal miners.
Senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., support a permanent fix for the miners’ benefit program, but Ryan prefers a 28-month remedy. A dispute over the timeline almost derailed the December deal to keep the government running. Talks are continuing.
Obamacare, meanwhile, continues to come under attack by Republicans seeking to revive their faltering effort to repeal and replace the health care law.
Puerto Rico suffers
Also still outstanding: Democrats’ desire to help Puerto Rico, which is dealing with an economic crisis. The financially troubled island badly needs help to fund its Medicaid program, and the money is a key Democratic priority.
“We agree on in our caucus to make certain that we are taking care of the coal miners and their health care benefits, to also make certain that we have a provision in there to help the people in Puerto Rico with Medicaid,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill.