Mitch McConnell said on Sunday he was waiting to hear what Donald Trump “might sign” before he put a bipartisan deal on healthcare up for a vote in the Senate. The White House budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, quickly indicated the wait for action by Congress would go on, saying the deal “in its current form probably isn’t far enough yet”.
McConnell was more decisive on the prospect of passing Trump’s tax cuts, which he said could be done by the end of the year.
Trump told Fox News his attacks on Republican senators over their legislative failures were meant to be motivational, to push a divided party towards success on healthcare and tax. He also repeated his claim that Republicans “have the votes” to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Two failed Senate bills have shown they do not.
Undaunted, the president this week told reporters “Obamacare is dead”, after he moved to weaken it by presidential fiat, issuing an executive order allowing the sale of cheaper insurance and cutting off subsidies meant to help poorer Americans.
Amid strong criticism from politicians, the healthcare industry and doctors’ groups, Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and the Washington Democrat Patti Murray negotiated a deal to maintain the payments. Trump has not said clearly if he supports the deal or not.
“I think he hasn’t made a final decision,” McConnell told CNN’s State of the Union. “When he does, and I know we’re not just debating it, but actually passing something to be signed, I’d be happy to bring it up.”
Mulvaney told CBS’s Face the Nation: “I talked to the president about it. He’s where he has been from the very beginning … which is, ‘I want to get a deal. I don’t want to give this money to insurance companies. I don’t want to give money to these CEOs who make tens of millions of dollars.’”
Trump has consistently represented the ACA subsidies this way and claimed that by cutting them he is working in favour of poorer Americans. Democrats and defenders of Barack Obama’s law say the subsidies help lower-income people who will not be able to afford insurance without them.
Trump, Mulvaney said, was trying to secure more items from Republicans’ health wishlist. The president was saying: “I’m not getting enough for the folks who are getting hurt. So give me more by way of associated health plans. Give me more of the things that we know we can do for folks back home to actually help them.”
Mulvaney said: “I think there’s actually a pretty good chance to get a deal. It’s just Murray-Alexander in its current form probably isn’t far enough yet.”
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer told NBC’s Meet the Press “this is a good compromise” that will pass “by a large number of votes”. Trump would ultimately sign off on the deal, Schumer said, to avoid being blamed for rising insurance premiums.
“If Republicans think that if premiums go up they’re going to avoid the blame, if Senator McConnell thinks that, he’s wrong,” he said.
McConnell, who staged a show of unity with Trump in the White House rose garden this week, has been the target of fierce invective from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former top adviser who is planning to run a slate of hard-right candidates against establishment senators next year. On CNN, McConnell brushed off questions about Bannon’s attacks.
On Thursday, the Senate approved a budget measure to allow Republicans to pursue tax cuts without support from Democrats. McConnell told Fox News Sunday Congress could thus pass tax legislation by the end of the year. He also insisted that he was not abandoning the goal of being “revenue-neutral” – cutting taxes but not adding to the federal deficit.
Non-partisan analysts have said Trump’s proposed cuts could add $2tn to the deficit over the next decade, a prospect that should be anathema to fiscal conservatives.
McConnell was asked on CNN if he had abandoned his longtime goal of revenue-neutral cuts. He said: “No, actually we’re not because that’s a rather conservative estimate of how much growth you’ll get out of this pro-growth tax reform.”
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a Democrat who was considered as Hillary Clinton’s running mate, doubted that claim. “The people closest to the president whispering in his ear all want to do … big tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country and hope it trickles down.”
“They say it’s budget neutral and they say it will raise wages. It’s never done that throughout history.”
McConnell would not discuss a proposal, reported by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, that Republicans were considering capping contributions to retirement funds.
“We’re just beginning the process of actually crafting the bills,” he said. “It’s way too early to predict the various details.”