“I think what most Americans want us to do is not repeal Obamacare, which is what our Republican colleagues are focused on, but fix it. The president is working to fix it; we are working in the Senate to fix it; we urge our Republican colleagues to join us in fixing it.”
— Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dec. 22, 2013
Any large piece of legislation contains drafting errors, just as bugs in computer code are often discovered after the release of new software. But one consequence of passing the Affordable Care Act with only the votes of one political party is that no so-called “technical corrections” bill has been passed, let alone introduced, because political passions continue to run high about the law. Thus, when unexpected problems have emerged, the White House has preferred to order administrative work-arounds.
Schumer is the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate leadership. So what is he talking about when he says Democratic senators are working to fix the law — and suggests the Republicans are not?
Lawmakers generally write laws, but when we asked Schumer’s office for evidence of “fixes” that Senate Democrats are working on, we received a list of administrative ideas and many meetings between Democrats (especially those vulnerable to a GOP challenge) and White House officials.
“Nov. 6 — A group of 15 Senators up for reelection in 2014 and Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) went to the White House to propose and discuss fixes to the ACA.”
“Senators Mark Warner, Angus King, Jeanne Shaheen, Mary Landrieu, Heidi Heitkamp and Tim Kaine sent a letter to the administration asking that individuals with canceled policies receive a hardship exemption to purchase catastrophic coverage. This week, the administration responded by allowing such individuals to claim a hardship exemption that would allow them to purchase catastrophic coverage or avoid the individual mandate penalty.”
A Democratic congressional aide said it would be wrong to assume that Schumer was speaking about legislative fixes. He said that senators have the ability to advocate for changes in other ways, and the administration has been responsive.
As an example, he pointed to legislation proposed by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) that would have allowed people to keep their pre-Affordable Care Act plans; the administration took part of the legislative concept and implemented it administratively. (Skeptics might argue the administration and the Democratic leadership did not allow a permanent legislative fix to proceed, so Landrieu’s solution — which had the support of many Republicans — was blocked.)
Okay, what about Republicans? Schumer said that they are “focused on repeal” and that “we urge our Republican colleagues to join us in fixing it.” Certainly, many Republicans dislike the law and, especially in the House of Representatives, have voted often to repeal it; indeed, some Republicans who have spoken openly about trying to improve the law have been attacked by GOP rivals for not adequately supporting full repeal.
Still, the clear impression of Schumer’s statement is that Democrats are open to working with Republicans to address issues in the law. But is that really the case?
For instance, Republicans have pressed for a repeal of the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, which would raise about $30 billion of revenue over the next decade but which manufacturers claim (perhaps wrongly) is costing jobs. Many Democrats also favor repealing the tax — a nonbinding amendment to the budget resolution passed 79 to 20, with Schumer voting in support of repeal — but the Senate Democratic leadership has refused to schedule a binding vote, even though the measure has passed with Democratic support in the House.
Meanwhile, Republicans have also pushed to delay the individual mandate for a year, winning the support of at least one Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin has pitched the idea of a “transitional year” to improve the product and discover any possible flaws. “This transitional year gives you a chance to adjust the products to the market and to see if the market will absorb and buy the product,” he said on Sunday.
We take no position on whether these proposals are good or bad, but simply note that they are Republican proposals to fix the law, in cooperation with at least some Democrats — which have been blocked by the Senate leadership that includes Schumer.
Indeed, two previous legislative fixes that cleared both chambers and were signed into law — repeal of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act (or CLASS Act) and repeal of the so-called 1099 reporting requirement — were spearheaded by Republicans.
“Democratic leadership believes the best way to fix the law is through administrative action, but if there are fixes that require legislation we’re certainly open to looking at those,” said Matt House, a Schumer spokesman.
The Pinocchio Test
Schumer’s comment was carefully worded to suggest that Democrats are working hard to improve the law while being open to Republican ideas. But his remarks leave out a significant part of the story. Senate Democrats generally have not offered legislative fixes — and the leadership often has blocked legislation backed by Republicans and even some Democrats from coming to the floor for a vote. Administrative fixes engineered by the White House can only go so far in addressing some of the problems that have emerged from the drafting of the original law.
Schumer’s comment is an example of political rhetoric that misdirects through omission and its tone, leaving listeners in the dark about the actual dynamics on the Senate floor. This comment is on the tipping point of between One and Two Pinocchios, but we don’t have 1/2 Pinocchios. Given the gap between Schumer’s rhetoric and the reality, we lean toward Two Pinocchios.
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