WASHINGTON - The White House stepped up demands Sunday that the Senate resume efforts to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law, suggesting that lawmakers cancel their entire August recess, if needed, to pass legislation after a stunning series of failed votes last week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has declared that it was "time to move on" from health care, scheduling debate early this week on judicial nominations.
But White House aides said President Donald Trump was not giving up on the health repeal effort. They indicated that he remained ready in the coming days to end required payments to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act as part of a bid to let "Obamacare implode" and force the Senate to act.
Trump is "going to make that decision this week," White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said, regarding the insurance company payments. "The president will not accept those who say, quote, 'It's time to move on.'"
For seven years, Republicans have promised that once they took power, they'd scrap Obama's health law and pass a replacement. But that effort crashed in the Senate most recently early Friday - prompting McConnell to declare it's time to focus on other policy matters.
In a Senate where Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, no Democrats voted for the GOP bill and three Republicans defected in the final vote early Friday.
Trump said in a tweet, "Don't give up Republican senators, the World is watching."
Asked if no other legislative business should be taken up until the Senate acts again on health care, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on Sunday responded "yes" and suggested the Senate continue working through August if necessary. While the House has begun a five-week recess, the Senate is scheduled to work another two weeks. McConnell has said the unfinished business includes addressing a backlog of executive and judicial nominations, ahead of a busy agenda in September that involves passing a defense spending bill and raising the debt limit.
"In the White House's view, they can't move on in the Senate," Mulvaney said. "They need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something."
Trump over the weekend warned that he would end federal subsidies for health care insurance for Congress and the rest of the country if the Senate didn't act soon. He was referring in part to a federal contribution for lawmakers and their staffs, who were moved onto Obamacare insurance exchanges as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
"If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!" Trump tweeted Saturday.
The subsidies, totaling about $7 billion a year, help reduce deductibles and copayments for consumers with modest incomes. The Obama administration used its rule-making authority to set direct payments to insurers to help offset these costs. Trump inherited the payment structure, but he also has the power to end them.
The payments are the subject of a lawsuit brought by House Republicans over whether the Affordable Care Act specifically included a congressional appropriation for the money, as required under the Constitution. Trump has only guaranteed the payments through July, which ends Monday.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was one of three Republican senators voting against the GOP health bill on Friday, said she's troubled by Trump's suggestions that the insurance payments are a "bailout." She said Trump's threat to cut off the payments would not affect her opposition to the GOP bill and stressed the insurance payments were critical to trim out-of-pocket costs for low-income people.
"The uncertainty about whether that subsidy is going to continue from month to month is clearly contributing to the destabilization of the insurance markets, and that's one thing that Congress needs to end," said Collins, who wants Congress to appropriate money for the payments. "I certainly hope the administration does not do anything in the meantime to hasten that collapse."
Trump previously said the law that he and others call "Obamacare" would collapse immediately whenever those payments stop. He has indicated a desire to halt the subsidies but so far has allowed them to continue on a month-to-month basis.
Conway spoke on "Fox News Sunday," Mulvaney appeared on CNN's "State of the Union" and Collins was on CNN as well as NBC's "Meet the Press."