Trump punts on health care, Democrats go on offense


Democrats, sensing an opening, gathered on the steps outside the US Supreme Court to announce resolutions in the House and Senate

Emboldened Democrats on Tuesday demanded Donald Trump's administration end its assault on the Affordable Care Act after the US president said he would not seek to replace the health law until after next year's election.

Trump thrust health care back into the spotlight last week when the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it was siding with a court ruling declaring the Barack Obama-era reforms unconstitutional.

But late Monday Trump essentially punted away the problem of crafting a quick solution, after several Republicans warned that there was no coherent Obamacare replacement ready.

A new Republican plan "will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare," Trump tweeted. 

"Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House," he added. "It will be truly great HealthCare that will work for America."

Trump's messaging essentially turns health care into a 2020 campaign issue.

Democrats, sensing an opening, gathered on the steps outside the US Supreme Court to announce resolutions in the House and Senate calling for Trump and the DOJ to reverse their position.

"The president has been trying to do away with the Affordable Care Act from day one," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, noting how the move would bump some 20 million people off their insurance and end protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump's position a "callous legal assault on Americans' health care," as he mocked the president for suddenly delaying his own plan. 

"Translation: They have no health-care plan," Schumer said. 

"What a ruse. What a shame. What a disgrace... The American people will not stand for the president playing cynical games with health care."

The Justice Department had previously said it backed parts of Obamacare. But in its new position, it said it sided fully with the December ruling in a Texas federal court by Judge Reed O'Connor following a lawsuit brought by conservative states.

That ruling is being appealed and the resulting impasse looks increasingly likely to end up in the Supreme Court -- putting a politically radioactive issue center stage in the middle of a heated presidential campaign.

Democrats have stressed that dismantling Obamacare would end protections for people with pre-existing conditions and allow insurers to deny coverage to cancer patients, charge women more due to their gender, and raise rates on seniors.

Trump caught fellow Republicans off guard when he pivoted to health care shortly after Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report on Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. 

Republicans overall showed little appetite to focus on the issue, particularly after the 2018 midterm elections when health care proved a winning campaign argument for Democrats.