Obama, Pence to Capitol as health care overhaul fight begins

Donald Trump warned congressional Republicans on Wednesday against letting Democrats dodge blame for problems with President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, even as the GOP-led Congress takes initial steps toward dismantling the law.

“Massive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess,” the president-elect said in three tweets, using the statute’s nickname. “It will fall of its own weight — be careful!”

Trump’s advice came as Obama was meeting with congressional Democrats at the Capitol to discuss how to combat the Republican drive to repeal much of his health care overhaul.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was meeting separately with House Republicans to discuss the best way to send Obama’s cherished law to its graveyard and eventually rally behind legislation to replace it. He planned to have lunch with GOP senators.

In his tweets, Trump blamed the statute for high deductibles, premium boosts and poor coverage and wrote that Democrats “own the failed ObamaCare disaster.”

He added, “Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web.” The new Senate minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, has been a leading defender of Obama’s 2010 overhaul.

Trump pledged during the presidential campaign to erase Obama’s law, though he’s said he wants to retain popular provisions like ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing medical problems.

Obama’s and Pence’s strategy sessions were coming on the second day of the new, GOP-led Congress. In 16 days, Trump replaces Obama at the White House, putting the party’s longtime goal of annulling much of the 2010 health care overhaul within reach.

Plenty of questions remain, including the repeal bill’s details, costs and when it would take effect. Republicans also face divisions over the next step — replacement legislation — that will likely take months or years to resolve.

While they can hardly prevent the GOP repeal effort from proceeding, the president and House and Senate Democrats were meeting Wednesday to discuss how to best defend a law that’s extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans and which Obama considers one of the proudest pillars of his legacy.

“The more the people understand what’s included in the Affordable Care Act and how they benefit from it, the more popular the program is, and the harder it is for Republicans to have political support for tearing it down,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday, using the law’s formal name.

Republicans eager to show quick action against Obama’s health care law took an initial procedural step Tuesday, introducing a budget bill that would have to be considered under a parliamentary procedure that would prevent Democrats from using a Senate filibuster to protect the health care law.

Republicans control the Senate by a 52-48 margin, but it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster, a procedural roadblock that can kill legislation.

The Senate was expected to complete the budget by next week. House approval would follow.

“This is the first step toward relief for Americans struggling under Obamacare,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The budget legislation gives congressional committees until Jan. 27 — a blink of an eye for lawmakers — to write legislation repealing major parts of the health care law. Likely targets include the law’s tax penalties for people who don’t obtain insurance, its requirement that many companies cover workers and tax increases on higher-earning individuals and many health care firms.

Aware they have no chance of quickly agreeing on replacement legislation, Republicans plan to delay when their repeal would actually take effect. A range of 18 months to three years — perhaps longer — has been under discussion.

Trump has provided few specifics about how he would revamp the nation’s $3 trillion-a-year health care system. Steps he and congressional Republicans have mentioned include greater reliance on tax credits to help people afford coverage.

Republicans don’t want to abruptly end health care coverage for millions of voters who live in GOP-represented districts and states, or cause chaos in health care markets and prompt insurance companies to stop selling policies. So they are considering including provisions in their repeal bill to protect consumers and insurers during the transition period.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the GOP Senate leadership, said that could include money to temporarily continue helping people afford to buy coverage and language letting the Department of Health and Human Services help stabilize insurance markets.

“Everyone realizes there’s going to have to be a phase-in, phase-out period,” Thune said Tuesday.


Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.