President Trump, having watched the Senate writhe in protracted labor for weeks without giving birth to even the ridiculous mouse dubbed “skinny repeal,” has taken to Twitter and issued this ultimatum: “If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” It would be unwise for Trump’s enemies — on either side of the aisle — to disregard this as bluster. The President not only possesses the authority to follow through on both threats without consulting Congress, he can do so immediately with the overwhelming support of the voters.
Public support is particularly strong for ending the bailouts for members of Congress. This refers, of course, to the special dispensation that protects every member of both houses, as well as the people who work in their teeming staff offices, from the depredations of Obamacare. This exemption was created when Trump’s predecessor directed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to classify Congress as a small business, and unknown congressional staffers submitted a fraudulent application to the D.C. Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) exchange claiming that the House and Senate employ only 45 people each.
Among the most mysterious, not to mention suspicious, features of this legal sleight-of-hand involves precisely who submitted the fraudulent application. If you open the above link, it will become obvious why the term “unknown congressional staffers” is used here. All of the names on the application have been redacted. When the Chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee attempted to subpoena the D.C. SHOP exchange for an unexpurgated copy, five Republican Senators voted with the committee’s Democrats to quash the subpoena. Who says there’s no bipartisanship in the Senate?
Voter surveys have consistently shown that a huge majority of Americans disapprove of this skulduggery. One poll conducted shortly after it came to light showed that 92 percent of voters believe “it is unfair that Congress should be exempt from buying their insurance in the health exchanges.” The President can eliminate this congressional exemption by simply instructing the OPM to rescind Obama’s directive and issue a new rule that requires members of Congress and their staff to buy coverage through an Obamacare exchange. The voters would certainly consider that to be condign punishment for congressional inaction on repeal.
Likewise, the voters won’t shed too many tears if Trump follows through on his threat to end insurance company bailouts. The particular bailouts he has in mind are the “cost sharing reduction” (CSR) payments that his predecessor illegally distributed to insurers selling coverage on Obamacare exchanges. These subsidies were never appropriated by Congress, yet the Obama administration raided the Treasury and used the money for a corporate welfare scheme meant to artificially hold down premiums. U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled this scheme unconstitutional last year but the Obama administration filed an appeal.
All President Trump has to do in order to stop these bailouts is to direct his Justice Department to drop the appeal, whereupon Judge Collyer’s ruling will stand, and the CSR payments will stop. It has been within the President’s power to issue this directive since he took office but he and his advisors judged it unwise to drop this fiscal bunker buster on the exchanges while “repeal and replace” was under consideration by Congress. But, if the Republicans can’t fix the Obamacare mess alone and the Democrats resolutely refuse to cooperate, what possible incentive does the President have to continue the CSR payments? Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer seems to believe the answer is the usual disingenuous Democrat sound and fury:
If the president refuses to make the cost sharing reduction payments, every expert agrees that premiums will go up and health care will be more expensive for millions of Americans. The president ought to stop playing politics with people’s lives and health care, start leading and finally begin acting presidential.
Schumer is evidently still counting on “the stupidity of the American voter,” as Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber famously phrased it. This is not a wise strategy. The electorate may be disappointed with the Republican repeal effort, but no one has forgotten who created the problem. The voters know all too well that premiums have skyrocketed since Obamacare was launched. If Schumer and the Democrats think they’ll prosper by blaming Trump for something that began long before he was elected, they should look at their own polling where the next few elections will be won or lost. At National Journal, Josh Kraushaar reports:
Republicans hold a 10-point lead on the generic ballot (43-33 percent) among these blue-collar voters. Democrats hold a whopping 61 percent disapproval rating among these voters, with only 32 percent approving. Even Trump’s job-approval rating is a respectable 52 percent with the demographic in these swing districts.
If Schumer and the rest of the Democrats have any sense, they’ll stop trashing Trump and work with congressional Republicans to find some solution to their Obamacare problem. And it is their problem. This ill-conceived law has decimated their party and promises to do more damage still if they spend all of their time defending it against the voters. On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans would bring new meaning to the term, “stupid party,” if they pass any legislation appropriating money for cost reduction payments or any other insurer bail-out along the lines suggested by Senator Susan Collins on Meet the Press yesterday morning.
Meanwhile, Trump should immediately strip Congress of its illegal Obamacare exemption. He should allow every member of the House and Senate, as well as their small armies of aides, to experience the joy of Obamacare. That would focus their attention wonderfully.