Trump knocks House health care bill as too harsh – Politico


President Donald Trump is pictured. |Mike Theiler-Pool/Getty

President Donald Trump hosts a working lunch with members of Congress, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (left), at the White House on June 13. | Getty

The president offered no detailed directives, but pressed for a deal.

President Donald Trump directed Senate Republicans to pass a generous health care bill at a meeting with more than a dozen GOP senators on Tuesday, arguing that the austere House health care bill is difficult to defend, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The president also said Republicans risk getting savaged in the 2018 midterms if they fail to repeal Obamacare after a seven-year campaign against the law.

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But he made clear that the Senate needs to pass a bill that Republicans are able to more easily defend and is not viewed as an attack on Americans from low-income households, as the House bill has been portrayed by critics, the sources said. He also advocated more robust tax credits for people who buy insurance on the individual market, a move that would increase the bill’s cost.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is pushing the Senate to slow the repeal of Medicaid expansion, indicated Trump is concerned about the people who are enrolled in the program for low-income Americans.

“He talked about the need to take care of people,” Portman said of the president.

The gathering included 13 GOP senators of varying ideological stripes, from the moderate Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to the conservative Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas. The meeting left some Republicans on Capitol Hill with the impression that Trump is siding with more moderate Republicans, particularly when it comes to winding down Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which brought insurance coverage to millions of people.

Trump has told associates that news coverage of the House health care bill was “terrible,” in the words of one associate who has spoken with him.

Trump threw a party in the Rose Garden celebrating the passage of the House bill and has publicly called it “terrific.”

But aides and associates said he has not liked the news coverage and has shown little interest in what is in the bill — but wants it to be received well.

Conservatives want to wind down the expansion quickly and curtail future Medicaid spending, while more centrist senators are trying to preserve as much coverage as possible. Republicans said Trump spent a significant portion of the meeting observing senators disagreeing over the matter.

Murkowski, who, like Portman, is from a state that expanded Medicaid, said she made it clear to the president that she is concerned about repealing the expansion.

“I reinforced that I think Medicaid expansion has been very important to the state of Alaska,” she said.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is arguing to constrain future Medicaid spending to a rate lower than the House bill provides, said finding the sweet spot “remains a challenge.”

“It feels like we’re making a little bit of progress. It’s slow, but it was always going to be a tough slog,” said Toomey, who attended the meeting.

A White House official said Trump did not take a firm position on Medicaid, which is the subject of much deliberation within the Senate Republican Conference. Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, attended both the White House meeting and a subsequent GOP lunch on health care, playing point for the administration on the matter.

And rather than instructing senators to meet hard deadlines, Trump urged Republicans to have a more orderly process than the chaotic one in the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to call for a vote this month, though it may slip until July due to ideological disagreements and the difficulty of drafting such a complex bill.

The president asked Republicans to set aside their vast policy differences and find consensus.

“The message really was, ‘I know you have your differences, but work through them and let’s figure out a way to get it done,’” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). “We have to get a product.”

“He wants us to pass this bill and improve this House bill,” Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah told reporters.

Republican senators believe it will be at least a week before a coherent blueprint emerges for the GOP to chew over. Leaders are still going back and forth with the Congressional Budget Office to lay out options for Medicaid and tax credits and how much each option would cost.

Hatch told reporters that he doesn’t think there will be a bill this week. If that prediction holds, it would be difficult for the Senate to vote on legislation before the Fourth of July recess.

McConnell refused to tell reporters when a bill might be released or how long it would be available to the public before a vote.

“We’ll let you see the bill when we finally release it,” McConnell said. “Nobody’s hiding the ball here.”

Trump has taken a much more hands-off approach to the Senate bill than he took with the House version. Many senators expect the president to weigh in with more one-on-one or group lobbying as the GOP gets closer to moving a bill to the Senate floor.

“He’ll be a big help, but I think the timing is important. And he’ll be an important part of this,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “We need to consult among ourselves and come up with a consensus.”

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

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