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Opinion Schumer: If Republicans destroy our health system, we won’t throw them a lifeline

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The emerging GOP plan to repeal Obamacare on a delayed schedule — and then maybe kinda sorta replace it later — has raised a big question: Will Democrats help Republicans pass a replacement that is far less generous and comprehensive than the health law is, allowing Republicans an escape from the political fallout from repeal?

In an interview with me, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer answered this question with a resounding No. Under no circumstances, he vowed, would Democrats throw Republicans such a political lifeline.

“We’re not going to do a replacement,” Schumer said of the Senate Democratic caucus. “If they repeal without a replacement, they will own it. Democrats will not then step up to the plate and come up with a half-baked solution that we will partially own. It’s all theirs.”

This could have far-reaching implications for the political battle over the health law that’s set to unfold — and indeed for the future of the health care system. Senate Republicans just announced that they will begin the process of repealing most of the health law in January, including the subsidies and Medicaid expansion that have helped cover many millions of previously uninsured people. Republicans are currently arguing over when exactly repeal should kick in — conservatives want it to be sooner, while GOP Senate leaders want to defer it to push off the political fallout until after the 2018 elections.

Repealing Obamacare without replacing it would be a disaster

But whenever repeal does kick in, Republicans have insisted, they will have some kind of replacement ready. And here’s where Democrats come in. Republicans appear to be calculating that the looming prospect of millions losing insurance will force Dems to cooperate with them to pass a replacement that covers far fewer people and offers less in consumer protection than the ACA does. (They may need Dems to pass a replacement, because some conservatives may not vote for anything that spends and regulates to expand coverage.) But if Democrats do hold the line against anything far short of the ACA, they may be able to leverage Republicans into replacing it with something that is not nearly as regressive as the GOP replacement might otherwise have been.

Trump has vowed to 'repeal and replace' Obamacare. He may find out that it's not quite that simple. (Video: Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

This is what Schumer is now vowing to do. Asked directly if Democrats would refuse to support anything that falls significantly short of the ACA in terms of expanding social welfare, Schumer said: “The odds, after they repeal without any replacement, of us sitting at the table to do something that will chop one arm off instead of two is very small.”

“They’re giving us tremendous leverage,” Schumer insisted.

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Time, of course, will tell whether Democrats make good on this vow. But it’s worth noting another important factor here: If Republicans do opt for repeal-and-delay, it could make a big mess very quickly, well in advance of any vote on a replacement, which could make the politics of this even worse for them.

As Jonathan Cohn reports today, health experts are predicting that repeal-and-delay could cause insurance markets to unravel very quickly. Insurance companies may exit the markets due to the uncertainty of seeing any replacement materialize. They may also pull out because Republicans look likely to repeal the individual mandate while trying to keep the protections for preexisting conditions (which cannot be repealed by a simple majority), which will make the risk pools older and sicker. The overall result could be millions losing coverage and all around chaos.

Schumer said that in this scenario, Democrats would not toss Republicans a lifeline. “They broke it, they own it,” Schumer said. “All the problems in the health care system that they blamed on Obamacare will now be in their laps. We’re going to make sure that we say things would have been a lot better, had they been thoughtful and careful and worked with us to fix Obamacare.”

Obamacare ‘repeal and dawdle’ policy is a political suicide mission

It’s hard to say for sure how this will all play out. But here’s one possible scenario: Republicans do repeal much of Obamacare; a big mess ensues; Democrats refuse to participate in any vastly substandard replacement; Republicans are unable to pass it; no replacement materializes; and in several years, 20 million fewer people have health coverage. That would be a tremendous lurch backward. But Democrats would try to make Republicans own the outcome and the fallout, and this would all be re-litigated once again, heading into the 2020 elections.


* CRITICISM MOUNTS OF TRUMP’S CRAZY, AWFUL NSA PICK: CNN reports that demands are growing louder for Trump to rescind his choice of national security adviser, Mike Flynn, with 53 nonprofit groups demanding he reconsider. Among Flynn’s offenses:

He has also spread false stories and re-tweeted anti-Semitic threats. He’s been criticized for dabbling in conspiracy theories and Islamophobia, for his questionable ties to foreign governments and for mishandling classified information while at the DIA, a post he was pushed out of.

Other than that, Flynn will be just perfect for the role of talking Trump out of his own penchant for conspiracies and delusions as he makes deeply consequential national security decisions.

* TRUMP’S ECONOMIC PROMISES AREN’T GONNA HAPPEN: The New York Times concludes that many of Trump’s economic promises will be very hard to honor. Among them: Preventing American companies from shipping jobs overseas; reviving manufacturing and coal; boosting growth to over 4 percent; and an infrastructure plan that isn’t a privatization scheme.

In other words, most of Trump’s main economic planks are unlikely to happen. Of course, the steep tax cuts for the rich and the deregulation of Wall Street will likely end up happening. Shocking that those priorities are the ones that will be realized, isn’t it?

* AMERICANS NOT TOO WORRIED ABOUT TRUMP CONFLICTS: A new Bloomberg Politics poll finds that Americans think Trump should keep his roles as businessman and president separate. But:

69 percent believe it goes too far to force him and his family to sell their business empire to avoid conflicts of interest…51 percent of those surveyed are very or mostly confident the billionaire businessman will put the nation’s best interests ahead of his family’s finances when he deals with foreign leaders.

Oh well. This may only encourage congressional Republicans to abandon even any pretense of oversight. Of course, these numbers might change if and when real scandals come along.

* KRIS KOBACH TO HEAD DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY? The Washington Examiner quotes a top transition official familiar with Trump’s thinking who says that Kansas Secretary of State Kric Kobach may be Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security.

If this does happen, Kobach — one of the country’s most prominent immigration hard-liners — may implement an agenda that is every bit as cruel and draconian as what Trump promised. Expect revocations of protections for dreamers; stepped-up deportations; and a lot more.

* TRUMP’S FINANCES WILL REMAIN OPAQUE: Trump now says he sold off his stocks during the campaign, minimizing possible conflicts. But the Post points out this key context:

Trump representatives have not provided records of stock transactions or other details since a financial-disclosure filing released in May. Over the past five months, Trump campaign officials gave no indication of the stock sale. Trump has also refused to release his tax returns, which would provide more detailed information about his financial holdings.

Congressional Republicans could be raising a fuss about this if they wanted to. But they won’t, so Trump’s finances will remain opaque for the foreseeable future.

* TRUMP IS ALL FOR BIG SPENDING ON STIMULUS: Trump has been named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year,” and in the article we find this quote from him:

He has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts. Instead, he seems to favor expensive new infrastructure spending and tax cuts as economic stimulus, much like Obama did in 2009. “Well, sometimes you have to prime the pump,” he says. “So sometimes in order to get jobs going and the country going, because, look, we’re at 1% growth.”

Prime the pump! The tea party will surely be as outraged over this as they were over Obama’s stimulus, which was widely cast as a threat to the future of the republic.

* AND COAL COUNTRY IS HOPEFUL ABOUT TRUMP: Marc Fisher has a nicely reported piece on how people in West Virginia coal country are deeply euphoric and hopeful about Trump ascending to the presidency. The Mayor of Buckhannon sums it up:

“Trump was just what people here have always been — skeptical of government, almost libertarian. He’s a West Virginia pipe dream: He’s going to undo the damage to the coal industry and bring back the jobs, and all of our kids down there in North Carolina are going to come home.”

It will be interesting when news organizations revisit coal country in, say, three years to see if Trump has lived up to expectations.