Trump Puts Both Parties in a Tough Spot by Punting Health Care

President Donald Trump is putting lawmakers in both parties in a risky spot by announcing an end to Obamacare subsidies and asking Congress to clean up the mess in insurance markets.

Although Democrats want Obamacare to survive, they don’t want to bail the president out after accusing him of sabotaging insurance exchanges. Republicans don’t want to prop up a law they have promised to eliminate. If there’s a deal, each side may try to frame the agreement as a cave-in by the other party.

Trump’s announcement last Thursday that he’ll end insurance subsidies for the poor was an “act of impulsive malice with no benefit and to no end," Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday.

Still, Schumer said talks between Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington on a way to provide the subsidies may be close. “From what I’ve heard they’re down to a few final issues and hopefully close to an agreement” that can be taken back to each caucus, Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor.

The talks seemed to get a boost Monday when Alexander said the president called him twice and asked him to make a deal. On the Republican side, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has praised Trump’s actions, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has kept mum.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, said Tuesday that Trump made a mistake by announcing he’ll cut off the subsidies before Congress could reach an agreement to provide the money. She said she worries that the rhetoric that the subsidies are a bailout of insurance companies is hindering bipartisan efforts to strike a deal.

"I’m concerned because they’ve been mischaracterized as being a bailout for insurers, when in fact what they do is help people who make between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty rate pay their out-of-pocket costs," she told reporters.

Collins said she spoke to both Alexander and Murray Monday night and remains optimistic that they’ll reach a solution, but said the "negotiations are still ongoing."

Punting the issue to Congress fits a pattern for the president, who has also asked lawmakers to work out an immigration deal and decide the future of Iran sanctions. For now, Trump is taking credit for the health-care talks.

“Republicans are meeting with Democrats because of what I did" with the subsidies, Trump said Monday. “They’re right now having emergency meetings to have a short-term fix of health care.”

— With assistance by Justin Sink, and Greg Sullivan

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