Democrats minimized their celebrations Friday in the wake of the stunning implosion of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts, putting the onus on Republicans to embrace bipartisan fixes to the health care law.
After hammering President Donald Trump’s party for months over its move to push through an Obamacare repeal with only Republican votes, Democrats pulled back on the criticism and tried to take the high road. Echoing the liberal activists who cheered Sen. John McCain’s dramatic decision to kill his party’s repeal bill, Democrats heaped praise upon the Arizona Republican — as well as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — for defying their own leaders and Trump amid intense pressure.
“I don’t think it’s a time for celebration or political victory,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters.
Schumer hailed McCain as “a wonderful man” and “one of my closest friends” in the chamber, and lauded Collins and Murkowski as “amazing.” He declined to point a finger at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose clandestine strategy to write a bill backfired in spectacular fashion in the wee hours of Friday morning.
“People blame Mitch McConnell. I don’t think that’s fair,” Schumer told reporters. “I think there were deep, deep fault lines in what our Republican colleagues tried to do.”
Schumer declined to discuss when he became aware of McCain’s decision to bring down the repeal effort he had voted to begin three days earlier. The New York Democrat said only that he and McCain spoke four or five times daily after the Republican returned to the Hill following a diagnosis of advanced brain cancer.
“John McCain is blessed with an internal gyroscope of right and wrong,” Schumer said, expressing hope that the “magic moment” of McCain’s vote would spark a renewal of bipartisanship on taxes and infrastructure as well as health care.
Schumer plugged three Democratic ideas to improve the seven-year-old Affordable Care Act: a reinsurance bill, legislation giving counties without an Obamacare exchange provider access to one, and a measure making permanent the subsidies for low-income individuals that the Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to stop as leverage to cajole lawmakers into a repeal deal.
But McConnell and other GOP leaders view those solutions as little more than Band-Aids on significant problems with the law, casting doubt on the viability of the bipartisanship Schumer touted.
“It’ll be interesting to see what they suggest as the way forward,” McConnell said of Democrats on the floor Friday. “For myself I can say — and I bet I’m pretty safe in saying for most on this side of the aisle — that bailing out insurance companies with no thought of any kind of reform, is not something I want to be part of. And I suspect there are not many folks over here that are interested in that.”
Over in the House, Democrats struck a similar tone at a press conference. The approach was a far cry from their caucus-wide celebration after House Republicans’ first failure to repeal Obamacare in March.
House Democrats crowded the podium at the time to cheer their GOP colleagues’ defeat. Pelosi later jumped for joy with liberal protesters on the front lawn of the Capitol, reveling in the victory.
But on Friday, House Democrats were downright subdued.
“This isn’t a moment for triumphalism,” said Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. “I think there’s enough goodwill from members on both sides to find a path forward and use this as a learning experience."
Pelosi, flanked by top Democrats on the various committees with health care jurisdiction, said there’s nowa rare window for the two sides to work together on some kind of solution.
“We’re in the minority, we recognize that. But we’ve stood ready with ideas and thoughts about how we can mend or improve the Affordable Care Act,” New York Rep. Joe Crowley, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters. “So it’s really incumbent upon them to join us and bring us to the table.”
Democratic leaders called on Trump to immediately commit to continuing federal subsidies that lower deductibles for low-income enrollees.
The Trump administration has toyed with the idea of yanking the payments, known formally as cost-sharing reduction payments, which could trigger immediate chaos in the insurance market and cause premiums to skyrocket.
Only after, they said, can the two parties work together on a long-term solution that further stabilizes the insurance market.
Schumer said he talked Friday morning with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), whom “I’ve always gotten along with,” about possible next steps on health care. Pelosi said she also had reached out to Ryan, who was attending the GOP’s weekly Friday meeting, but had yet to hear back.
“I believe we will speak … soon," she said.
A group of about 40 House Republicans and Democrats have been meeting quietly for the last month to look at ways to stabilize Obamacare. Separately, members of the pro-business New Democrat Coalition presented their own ideas to centrist Tuesday Group Republicans at a meeting of the two groups last week.
Still, Democrats made clear that if their bipartisan overtures fail, Republicans are the ones who will shoulder the blame.
“The Republicans hold the White House, the Senate and the House and yet they are finger-pointing to us,” said Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who sits in a Trump-won district. “Here’s the reality of it…We stand here with open arms.”