WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus is urging President Donald Trump to defend the nation’s health care law in light of a federal judge’s ruling on the constitutionality of “Obamacare.”
Forty-nine senators — 47 Democrats and two independents — signed a letter Wednesday asking for Trump to order the Department of Justice to request a stay in the ruling, in which the judge ruled “Obamacare” as unconstitutional.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., led the signing of the letter, which was sent less than a week since the ruling.
“We’re hoping the president will see the errors of the people that have been advising him and how wrong it is to take this approach,” Manchin said at a press conference.
Judge Reed O’Connor, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, ruled Friday “Obamacare” is unconstitutional due to the law’s individual mandate. The Supreme Court said in 2012 the individual mandate requiring people to have insurance is allowed under Congress’ taxing power.
Lawmakers repealed the individual mandate in last year’s tax bill. O’Connor said Friday the individual mandate is not separate from the health care law.
Twenty state attorneys general, including West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, filed the lawsuit, which the Department of Justice chose not to challenge.
Manchin, standing alongside Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said at a press conference it is important to protect the health care law.
“We were afraid this day was going to happen, but we were not unexpecting it to happen with the types of verdicts that the judge in Texas has been rendering over the course of his career,” Manchin said.
While the health care law remains in effect, Murray said a legal strike down would be devastating.
“Tens of millions of people would have their coverage thrown into jeopardy. Important patient protections, like those with pre-existing conditions, will be thrown out the window. The health care system our families rely on to find affordable quality coverage and get the care they need will be thrown into chaos,” she said.
The caucus argued in its letter millions of Americans would be at risk of losing or lose insurance coverage, while others would see higher costs.
Manchin has said on multiple occasions around 800,000 West Virginians with pre-existing conditions would be at risk of losing their coverage if the health care law is struck down. The senator, speaking to MetroNews Wednesday afternoon, added while “Obamacare” is not perfect, it should not be thrown out.
“If we couldn’t fix the bill that we have right now, I’d vote to get rid of it. I would have done that a long time ago,” he said. “The parts that are working are working well. We have to teach people how to use health care they are getting for the first time in their life in a much more healthier and productive way.”
Democrats also asked for unanimous consent on a resolution authorizing the Senate Legal Counsel to defend “Obamacare.”
Manchin introduced the resolution in July. All members of the Senate Democratic Caucus backed the measure.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., objected to unanimous consent, blocking the motion.
“Regardless of what happens in this legal process, our commitment has always been to protect people with pre-existing conditions,” he said.
Manchin told MetroNews he is not surprised about the move.
“My Republican friends, they sure do talk a good game,” he said. “All we want to do is have our legal counsel intervene, and they keep talking about is, ‘We want everyone that has pre-existing conditions has affordable insurance.'”
Republicans introduced a bill in August protecting insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Fifteen Republicans senators, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, are cosponsors.
Manchin said there is an avenue for providing affordable health insurance.
“Well, that’s easy to do. Patrick Morrisey could remove his name from the lawsuit and we could all be fighting it together. Republicans could not object, and then we’d go right into it and have our legal counsel be ready to defend us,” he said.
Manchin also mentioned a bipartisan health care proposal during the press conference and interview as another possible solution; Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced an agreement last year which includes funding cost-sharing reduction subsidies and increasing flexibility for states to secure provision waivers.
Manchin said the proposal has been sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, but the Kentucky senator has done nothing with the deal.
During this year’s Senate race, Manchin criticized Morrisey, the Republican candidate, for his support of the lawsuit. Morrisey said he supported protecting insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, but “Obamacare” is not providing people with high-quality health care.
Manchin said he has talked to Morrisey since Election Day and have discussed the lawsuit.
“We’re just going to agree to disagree,” Manchin said. “I said, ‘Patrick, if something is there, tell me what you got. Tell me what works. Because we know right now, people are not denied by the insurance companies because it is against the law.'”
Morrisey said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline” when lawmakers eliminated the individual mandate, there was no valid exercise of Congress’ tax authority, making the entire law unconstitutional.
“What this does is it cues up the right debate,” he said. “We should discuss how we have high-quality, affordable health care, but policies that are consistent with the Constitution. I know that there are opponents of our lawsuit want to scrap the Constitution to get their way, but we can do this without breaking the law.”
As for Manchin, he said he would like the opportunity to sit down with the president and get involved in the matter, calling the idea of a presidential health care bill “Trump Repair Care.”
“You’ve got people talking about single-payer system, Medicare-for-all. Hell, we can’t even fix what we’ve got in front of us, let alone take on something like that,” he said.
“Take this bull by the horns,” he urged Trump. “It’s going to be yours one way or another. It’s going to be your responsibility. We can’t even fix things, let alone start over.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Friday his office plans to challenge the judicial decision. Bloomberg reported this week House Democrats plan to enter the legal fight after they control the House of Representatives next month.