Flicking a dismissive jab at President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a plan Wednesday to expand “Obamacare," even as Trump's administration is about to file arguments in a Supreme Court case to strike it down.
Pelosi announced an upcoming floor vote on her measure, setting up a debate that will juxtapose the Democrats' top policy issue, Trump's unrelenting efforts to dismantle Obama's legacy, and the untamed coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, the Trump administration is expected to file papers with the Supreme Court arguing that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Pelosi wants her bill on the House floor Monday.
Trying to overturn a health insurance expansion providing coverage to about 20 million people “was wrong any time,” Pelosi said.
“Now, it is beyond stupid," she added. “Beyond stupid.”
COVID-19 cases are rising in major states like Texas, Florida and California, and millions of workers who have lost coverage in the economic shutdown to contain the virus can rely on the health law as a backup.
The White House said Pelosi is just playing politics. “Instead of diving back into partisan games, Democrats should continue to work with the president on these important issues and ensuring our country emerges from this pandemic stronger than ever,” spokesman Judd Deere said Wednesday in a statement.
Pelosi's legislation has no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Her bill would expand subsidies, allowing more people to qualify for coverage under the ACA. It would financially squeeze some states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the health law. And it would empower Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices — a position Trump once favored but later abandoned.
It would also undo the Trump administration's expansion of short-term insurance plans that don't have to cover preexisting medical conditions, something Democrats say will undermine a central achievement of the ACA.
Democrats won control of the House in 2018 on their defense of the health care law. Since then, that chamber has voted on most of the measures in Pelosi's plan in one form or another.
But, as underscored in a memo last month led by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the broader goal is to make Republicans squirm.
“Republicans at all levels own this lawsuit’s attack on Americans’ health care,” said the memo. “They will be held responsible for their party-wide obsession with throwing our health care system into chaos and stripping health care from 20 million Americans during a global pandemic.”
Obama's law has grown more popular since Trump's unsuccessful effort to repeal it in 2017, when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. In May, a poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 51% of Americans view “Obamacare” favorably while 41% have unfavorable views.
An earlier Kaiser poll found also found that nearly 6 in 10 are worried they or someone in their family will lose coverage if the Supreme Court overturns either the entire law or its protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.
In the case before the court, Texas and other conservative-led states argue that the ACA was essentially rendered unconstitutional after Congress passed tax legislation in 2017 that eliminated the law's unpopular fines for not having health insurance, but left in place its requirement that virtually all Americans have coverage.
The conservative states argued that elimination of the fines made the law’s so-called individual mandate unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas agreed, adding that the mandate was so central to the law that without it the rest must also fall.
The Trump administration’s views on the law have shifted over time, but it has always supported getting rid of provisions that prohibit insurance companies from discriminating against people on account of their medical history. Nonetheless, Trump has repeatedly assured Americans that people with preexisting conditions would still be protected. Neither the White House nor congressional Republicans have specified how.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans found the health law’s insurance requirement to be unconstitutional, but made no decision on such popular provisions as protections for people with preexisting conditions, Medicaid expansion and coverage for young adults up to age 26 on their parents’ policies. It sent the case back to O'Connor to determine whether other parts of the law can be separated from the insurance requirement, and remain in place.
Democratic-led states supporting the ACA appealed to the Supreme Court. It's unclear if the court will hear oral arguments before the November election. A decision is unlikely until next year.
The court has twice upheld the law, with Chief Justice John Roberts memorably siding with the court’s liberals in 2012, amid Obama’s reelection campaign. The majority that upheld the law twice remains on the court.