By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said on Monday that senators for now are too divided to keep working on healthcare overhaul legislation and that he and other senior Republicans will take that message to the White House.
President Donald Trump has been urging lawmakers not to drop the matter, despite a series of failed votes last week. “There’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on healthcare,“Hatch said in an interview with Reuters.
He said he would prefer Congress not appropriate cost-sharing subsidies that help make Obamacare plans affordable but added, “I think we’re going to have to do that.”
Trump over the weekend urged Republican senators to stick with trying to pass an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, former President Obama’s signature domestic initiative known as Obamacare.
Trump made replacing Obamacare a key part of his presidential campaign and Republicans have promised for years to repeal or replace the law. The House of Representatives has passed an overhaul but the Senate has been unable to do so despite having worked on it for months. Three Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting against repealing even part of the law at the end of last week.
“Don’t give up Republican senators, the world is watching: Repeal & Replace ...,” Trump tweeted on Sunday while White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the Senate should stay in session to get something done on healthcare, even if it means postponing votes on other issues.
Hatch said although he understood Mulvaney’s position, he did not think he was right. The senator said he saw no real desire on the part of Democrats to work together on the healthcare issue “and I have to say some Republicans are at fault there, too.”
Hatch said he had not given up on healthcare. “I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to healthcare afterwards but we need to move ahead on tax reform,” Hatch said.
Asked who would relay the message to the Trump administration, Hatch laughed and said, “I’m going to be one who does that,” adding that he expected Republican leaders of the House and Senate, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, would do so, too.
Hatch said lawmakers would need to appropriate the cost-sharing subsidy payments that the administration has been making. Trump has threatened to cut off these subsidies, which help insurers keep deductibles down for low-income people who get health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges.
“I’m for helping the poor, always have been. And I don’t think they should be bereft of healthcare,“Hatch said.
(additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)