Democrats Split on Joining GOP for Health Care Fix


The divisions and infighting plaguing the GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare are contagious — the Democrats face a rift of their own on health care.

Once-unified Democrats are splintering into competing factions over how to best move forward, with progressive lawmakers and activists aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., telling NBC News Wednesday they see the problems in the GOP as an opportunity to double down on their preferred health care reforms, like single-payer health insurance. They have shown little to no interest in negotiating with Republicans.

On the other hand, several Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have said they have in mind a variety of modest changes to Obamacare that they’d love to sit down and discuss with Republicans. Schumer even invited President Donald Trump to a bipartisan meeting with all senators.

That difference in how to approach improving the health care system has created a stark split in messaging within the Democratic party — a divide the White House has rushed to exploit.

Schumer, who had played an instrumental role in quietly persuading all 48 Senate Democrats to remain together in opposition — until the Senate GOP’s proposal fell apart this week — said Wednesday that his party wanted to be part of talks with the president.

“President Trump, I challenge you to invite us, all 100 of us, Republican and Democrat, to Blair House to discuss a new bipartisan way forward on health care in front of all the American people,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor.

“I would make my friends on the Republican side and President Trump an offer: Let’s turn over a new leaf. Let’s start over,” added Schumer, who insisted that cooperation with the GOP would have to center around fixing Obamacare, not repealing and replacing it.

Related: What’s Next For the Senate GOP Health Care Bill?

Other moderate Senate Democrats, like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., have been behind that message since last year’s election and have said recently they’re willing to talk to Republicans, as long as repealing Obamacare is off the table and the White House drops any threats to sabotage the law for political leverage.

“For me and for my Democratic colleagues we’ve got to take the gutting of Medicaid and health care off the table,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “That has nothing to do with the premiums in the private market.”

In interviews with NBC News, Democrats rattled off a list of ideas where they think common ground is possible.

Several members, including Manchin, have co-sponsored a bill that would add a cheaper catastrophic plan to the insurance exchanges, among other tweaks. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., recently introduced legislation that would allow people in counties with no insurers to buy from the same exchanges members of Congress use.

Other Democrats have talked about restoring Obamacare provisions that cushion insurers against unexpected high costs that were removed in a prior bipartisan spending deal.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., for his part, has suggested allowing insurers to sell across state lines, a proposal that has also gotten support from Trump.

Warner acknowledged that “folks on both ends of the extreme” could torpedo efforts to work across the aisle, but said he would still try.

“I’ve taken my share of hits from both sides for being bipartisan,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing that.”

Related: GOP Delays Health Care Vote Amid Defections, Disagreement

Image: Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at a Democratic unity rally.

Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at a Democratic unity rally.