Senate Democrats push vote to defend Obamacare

By | January 15, 2019

Senate Democrats have re-introduced a resolution that would allow the upper chamber’s counsel to intervene in a lawsuit that seeks to throw out Obamacare.

House Democrats voted to pass a similar resolution last week, and a Democratic push to bring a similar motion to the floor last session failed in the Senate under Republican opposition.

The intervention of the counsels won’t have much impact on the case, Texas v. United States, but Democrats are aiming to use the opportunity to highlight GOP opposition, specifically to rules in Obamacare that do not allow insurers to turn sicker customers away or charge them more.

“We are not going to let this issue go away,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a press conference Tuesday. “We are going to force Republicans to vote and put them on record.”

Before Obamacare, the practice of turning customers away, denying them coverage related to a specific illness, or charging higher premiums, was commonplace, especially for people who bought health insurance on their own rather than receiving it through an employer. The provision is one of Obamacare’s most popular among voters, even though it has contributed to higher premiums for certain enrollees.

The resolution from Democrats will put Republicans in the difficult position of voting either to defend a law they have vowed to replace or casting a vote that Democrats can then argue demonstrates they were not really committed to the promises they made during the midterm elections to keep in place Obamacare’s protections for pre-existing conditions, which include ailments such as cancer and diabetes.

“If there are any Republicans who truly meant what they said during campaign season, they can show us now,” said Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said Republicans had “no credibility” when they said they believed in the protections.

The Texas case that Democrats want the counsel to intervene on is making its way through the courts. A federal judge issued a ruling in December that not only would undo rules relating to pre-existing conditions, but the rest of Obamacare as well. This would include the expansion of Medicaid to low-income people, no co-pay coverage for preventive care, and reductions in how much Medicare beneficiaries pay for drugs.

Republican state officials who waged the initial lawsuit want the law to be thrown out as a result of the GOP-passed tax overhaul that zeroed out the fine for the uninsured. They argue that, without the provision, the rest of the law must fall, and the federal judge, Reed O’Connor, agreed.

Asked by the Washington Examiner why Democrats didn’t introduce a bill instead of the resolution that would seek to clarify that Congress intended for the rest of the law to stay in place, Murray replied that they wanted to “defend the bill in court so it doesn’t get overturned.”

“That’s the most immediate and most impactful,” she said.

The ruling on Obamacare is being stayed, and Democratic attorneys general are appealing it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans. The proceedings are on hold because of the partial government shutdown.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who is leading the effort on the resolution, said Democrats would continue to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring up the resolution for a vote. “This is really do or die for a lot of people,” he said.