The flame-out of Republicans’ first attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare has left Congress in something of a holding pattern. The White House and congressional leaders have signaled a desire to move on to other issues such as tax reform, while insisting health-reform negotiations are still alive.
But it’s clear health reform needs to get moving soon if it’s to move at all this year. How much time is left?
“I’d say a month,” is how Georgia’s junior senator, David Perdue, put it.
Perdue was in Atlanta last week, visiting the site of the I-85 collapse among other stops. He has said the GOP will have to reach out to Democrats if it’s to get anywhere on health reform. But with Senate Democrats apparently digging in against Donald Trump’s entire agenda, including health reform, after several years of Republicans taking a similar approach to Barack Obama, I asked him why should anyone believe that’s possible.
“My hope is there will be some Democrats that will be willing to enter into a real good-faith conversation about getting something done on health care,” Perdue told me Wednesday in his downtown office. But, he added, “Republicans, we’ve got a thing to do here, too, and this is the part I’m espousing.
“I lived in Asia. This thing called ‘face’ is very important around the world. And I think this is not a time for us to (cast) blame about Obamacare. Obamacare is failing. Even Democrats acknowledge it’s got to get fixed. Well I don’t care what word you put on it. People back home want health care to work for them. Why don’t we just get together – whether it’s ‘repeal and replace,’ or ‘repeal and fix,’ or ‘let’s just fix it.’ That’s all people want.”
OK, but setting aside what the effort is called, where might we find the substance for it?
“First of all it’s states,” he said. “You’ve got the states that expanded Medicaid … and then those like Georgia that did not. There are Democratic states (that did not expand). So you’ve got situations where we just want the states treated fairly, with parity, and … the first proposal that came out, they really weren’t. So we pushed on that.”
A quick internet search reveals four Democratic senators (Bill Nelson of Florida, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin) and an independent (Angus King of Maine) who are up for re-election next year in states that didn’t expand Medicaid. Seven other Democrats are up in 2018 in states Trump won. Perhaps some combination of these would join a Parity Caucus.
What else? Perdue continued: “I think this idea of the tax credits that are used to help pay for low-income patients, there is common ground there with Democrats about where that level ought to be. Quite frankly, I disagreed with the House’s version of the (qualifying income) level. It was much too high. A couple making a couple hundred thousand (dollars) a year don’t really need a tax credit.
“So there are things like that that we’ve had behind-the-scenes conversations about, that are encouraging, that we could find some common ground here. If – if – a few Democrats will pull away from the mainstream (Democratic) strategy.”
Now, back to the original question: What are the chances of that happening?
“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful. Because if we’re ever going to break this gridlock, this is a good one to do it. This is an important, emotional issue for people. Health care is a real, base-level need, and people are very interested. They’ve got to have a system that works for them.”