Democrats say spending bill must fund Obamacare payments

Democrats say they will make funding for a key Obamacare program a top priority in the next spending bill after President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to stop it, raising the possibility of a government shutdown threat over the health care law.

Trump said he hasn’t decided whether to fund the Obamacare cost-sharing program, which helps low-income Americans pay their health care co-pays and deductibles. In a Wall Street Journal interview Wednesday, he suggested that the funding for the program — called cost-sharing reductions — should be used as leverage to bring Democrats to the table on health care.

The current government spending bill expires April 28 and will need at least some Democratic support to get to Trump’s desk.

"Given the threat," a Senate Democratic aide said of Trump’s comments, "we’ll be pushing for a robust cost-sharing reduction appropriation."

The aide declined to say how much funding Democrats would insist upon. Others have estimated that full funding for one year would require between $7 billion and $8 billion.

Democrats on both sides of the Capitol are in agreement. Funding for the program "must be included" as "permanent mandatory spending," an aide to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told POLITICO.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has previously said that he expects funding to continue while the lawsuit is pending, which is similar to what the Department of Health and Human Services said as recently as earlier this week. A Ryan spokeswoman declined to say whether Trump’s comments, or Democrats’ reaction to them, changed anything.

"We continue to work with the Trump administration to evaluate the options in front of us," the spokeswoman told POLITICO.

The debate over the cost-sharing program, which was the focus of a House lawsuit brought against the Obama administration, poses a significant threat to the future of the health care law. If funding for the program is eliminated, many insurers would likely leave the Obamacare markets immediately, throwing coverage for millions of people into turmoil.

A district court judge ruled last year that the Obama White House was illegally funding the program, but allowed the subsidies to keep flowing pending appeal by the Obama administration. Earlier this year, the House and the Trump administration asked a court to put the appeal on hold until they could decide how to handle the subsidies.

As of last week, top Republican appropriators in the House said they had no plans to fund the cost-sharing program in the next spending bill. House Appropriator Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who oversees health spending, said leadership told him he didn’t need to worry about the cost-sharing funding in this bill.

Cole previously told reporters he wasn’t ruling out the use of mandatory spending to cover the subsidies, which means lawmakers wouldn’t need to offset the spending.

Despite their opposition to Obamacare, Republicans have been reluctant to cut funding for the cost-sharing program because it would mean a major disruption for Obamacare enrollees.

Most rank-and-file lawmakers had expressed hope that leadership and the Trump administration would find a way to fund the subsidies while allowing the decision in the House lawsuit to stand.

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