On April 12, Donald Trump announced that he is considering a move designed to intimidate Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democrats in general. His stated purpose is to pressure them to sign on to his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Trump’s strategy is simple. He wants to stop the subsidies paid under the Affordable Care Act that make health insurance affordable for low-income Americans. This would also plunge the health care insurance markets into chaos. Trump stated that he believes voters will blame the Democrats for his actions. He also said that Democrats should be “begging” him to let them sit down and talk about Obamacare.
Can Trump really do this? The answer appears to be yes. In 2014 a federal court judge ruled in favor of a Congressional lawsuit challenging the Obamacare subsidy. However, halting the subsidies is on hold pending appeal. The appeal launched by the Obama administration is currently working its way through the courts. Trump can withdraw the appeal, and so allow the judge’s decision to take effect. Insurers would no longer get the cost-sharing payments, or subsidies, that allow poor Americans to buy insurance at reduced rates.
However, it’s not that simple. First, giving in to Trump’s demands doesn’t gain the Democrats anything. Trump’s health insurance will cut subsidies anyway, leaving millions of people without insurance. Second, Trump is betting the poor are gullible enough to believe that his actions are the fault of the Democrats. That appears unlikely to happen, however.
The president seems to be holding a very weak hand — and one that would work to the advantage of Republicans in Congress who do not want to vote to end the ACA without a good replacement ready to put in its place. There’s not much chance the Democrats will lose many votes if they call Trump’s bluff. When voter outrage explodes over loss of health care, GOP Representatives and Senators will be able to say they didn’t do it. Trump claims the Democrats “own” Obamacare. In reality, it looks more like he does.