President Trump is taking a more populist approach to health care in the wake of congressional Republicans’ inability to repeal-and-replace Obamacare — putting both insurance companies and Congress on notice for being exempt from the unpopular law.
Trump took to Twitter on Monday to ask why Obamacare, which he said is “hurting people,” isn’t also hurting insurance companies and congressional lawmakers.
If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn't it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 31, 2017
The move appears to mark a new approach to the healthcare debate from the president. Up to now, Trump had by-and-large rallied behind the typical Republican approach of repeal-and-replace — although he had also flirted with the option of letting Obamacare “implode” so as to bring Democrats to the negotiating table.
Although he did not make any major speeches on the topic in the same way Obama did when selling ObamaCare, he was active in calling and lobbying on-the-fence lawmakers in bringing them on board in support of the bill. In particular, Trump was credited with helping push the American Health Care Act through the House in May.
But as the Republican-led effort crumbled last week in Congress, with multiple efforts to scrap Obamacare crashing against the rocks, Trump appears to be reconnecting with his populist base and turning his ire not only on Congress, but also the insurance companies.
The vote on a “skinny repeal” failed Friday after three Republicans — Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), and John McCain (R-AZ) — defected and voted against the measure. Previous votes, including a vote for a flat-out repeal, also failed.
In the wake of that vote, Trump accused those who voted against the bill of having “let the American people down.”
3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 28, 2017
On Sunday, Trump followed up again, tweeting that he wanted to end the “bailouts” of insurance companies and promising that they will end “very soon.”
If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2017
It appears that Trump was referring to subsidy payments made to insurance companies to help subsidize health care plans for lower-income Americans. Obamacare supporters say that removing those subsidies would increase the cost of healthcare by making them bear the brunt of the costs.
But Trump’s targeting of big insurance companies marks a departure from traditional Republican strategy, which generally views insurance companies as a victim of big government interference, and focuses primarily on deregulating the industry.
Trump’s victory in November came in part due to his willingness to depart from Republican orthodoxy, including on trade and immigration.
Additionally, the exemptions of members of Congress from Obamacare was highly unpopular at the grassroots level, and on Friday Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin called on Trump to end the exemption. Martin said:
It is apparent that since Members of Congress, their families and staff do not have to live under the law they passed for every other American, they lack the incentive to take the action they were elected to take. Ending Congress’s special exemption from Obamcare will motivate Republicans to finally keep their promise – if not for principle, at least to improve their own insurance predicament.
Threatening lawmakers’ exemptions could prove a powerful tactic by Trump to keep Republicans, many of whom seem ready to move on to another issue in the wake of their defeat, on the topic.
“The president will not accept those who said it is, quote, time to move on,” White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News on Sunday.
It was also likely to upset Democratic lawmakers. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) described Trump’s Sunday tweet as a “threat to Congress.”
This is a clear threat to Congress: pass my health bill or as punishment I will end health care for you, your staff, & your constituents. https://t.co/49yAOU2bnU
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 29, 2017
Trump’s populist push comes just days after Trump fired Reince Priebus — who was commonly seen as the key mainstream Republican voice in Trump’s administration —as his White House chief of staff. It is possible that Trump’s new populist push on health care could be the first fruit of that personnel change.
Adam Shaw is a Breitbart News politics reporter based in New York. Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamShawNY