- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2018

Senate Democrats on Thursday pressured Republican leaders to step in and protect Obamacare from a state-driven lawsuit that threatens Obamacare’s main protections for sicker Americans, saying President Trump’s refusal to defend the program leaves them no choice.

All 49 members of the Democratic caucus signed onto a resolution that would compel the Senate’s Office of Legal Counsel to intervene in the case, effectively daring the GOP to choose between President Trump’s hands-off position or a spirited defense of the most popular parts of the 2010 health care law, as the midterm campaign season heats up.

Democrats say the Justice Department is playing with fire by refusing to defend the Affordable Care Act against the lawsuit, which was filed by 20 GOP-led state and says legislative tweaks to the law’s “individual mandate” made the rest of the program unconstitutional, including parts that require insurers to accept sick people and charge them the same price as healthier people.

“They are going directly at these protections for pre-existing conditions,” said Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, calling the resolution a direct test of Republican leadership. “It’s a pass-fail test. There’s no in-between here.”

Mr. Casey and two other Democrats facing re-election in states that Mr. Trump won — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — led the charge with party leaders, underscoring how the politics around President Obama’s namesake program have flipped in this midterm cycle.

For years, Obamacare’s onerous mandates and rising premiums drove GOP victories at the ballot box.

Now, polling suggests Obamacare is more popular than ever, after Republican attempts to repeal and replace the law went down in flames last year.

Democrats are trying to make health care the primary focus of the midterm campaign season, as they try to retake the House and defend a slate of vulnerable senators in traditionally red states.

Some party members are looking beyond their signature program, however, forcing red-state Democrats to grapple with divisions within their own party.

House Democrats launched a “Medicare for all” caucus Thursday to draw in the lines of a single-payer insurance system. Forging a government-run system that covers every American is a leading goal for progressives who want to pull the Democratic Party to the left.

Republicans are relishing the fight, saying the notion of a “government takeover” of health care will be a political loser for Democrats.

But Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat who announced the formation of the caucus, said recent polling proves that progressive ideas are largely supported by working-class Americans and voters in swing districts.

Yet, Senate Democrats facing re-election in Trump country declined to throw their support behind the idea.

“We have to fix what we have in front of us,” Mr. Manchin said, adding he would be open to vetting any ideas that improve health care.

Democrats see the state-driven lawsuit against Obamacare as the perfect foil in their effort to draw a contrast with Republican foes.

The crux of the lawsuit’s argument is that since the GOP tax bill zeroed out penalties tied to Obamacare’s mandate to hold insurance, Congress is no longer using the taxing authority that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. relied on to uphold the law as constitutional in 2012.

The protections for sicker Americans are supposed to work in tandem with the mandate, which was included to prod healthier people into the marketplace and shield insurance against big losses, since they couldn’t impose higher premiums on those with preexisting conditions.

Mr. Manchin and other vulnerable Democrats said their constituents back home are worried about losing the protections and bring it up at town hall meetings.

It’s unlikely their resolution will gain traction with Republicans, though Sen. Susan Collins of Maine urged the Justice Department to reconsider its position, while Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has called the suit’s argument “as far-fetched as any I’ve ever heard,” since Congress gave no indication it wanted to scrap the law when it gutted the mandate.

Though the Justice Department is standing aside, the health program isn’t totally defenseless — a series of blue-state attorneys general have intervened and will argue in favor of the law in court.

Still, red-state Democrats accused the GOP of using the courts to “blow up” Obamacare after they failed to repeal it legislatively, putting their most vulnerable constituents at risk.

“We have a fix right here. Let’s intervene. Let’s stop it from happening,” Mr. Manchin said.

Mr. Manchin’s opponent in November — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey — and Ms. McCaskill’s rival — Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley — are among the plaintiffs pushing the anti-Obamacare lawsuit, so Democrats took aim at them Thursday.

Mr. Morrisey hit back, accusing Mr. Manchin of kowtowing to the wishes of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer instead of forging a better system than Obamacare.

“When President Trump asked Sen. Manchin to fix the broken health care system by repealing and replacing Obamacare, Joe sided with Washington liberals and said NO,” said Morrisey campaign spokesman Nathan Brand.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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