“Less health care and it will cost more,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Playbook Interview. | John Shinkle/POLITICO
It’s a world where health insurance companies are jacking up rates, Americans are losing benefits and illness is racking the nation.
This is the apocalyptic picture of America offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to describe how he sees the health-care landscape after Republicans gut Obamacare. And he has found a slogan — borrowing from perhaps the most successful branding campaigns in modern political history — that he hopes to turn against the GOP repeal plan: “Make America Sick Again.”
“Less health care and it will cost more,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a Playbook Interview on his first day as the chamber’s top Democrat. “And it will create chaos. Because you cannot repeal a plan and put nothing in its place. It doesn’t matter if you say the repeal won’t take place for year or two years.”
Schumer is taking a hard line when it comes to Republican plans to repeal the law, and whether or not Democrats would work across the aisle on a replacement if Republicans are successful in rolling it back. “And if they think we’re going to come in and save their butts when they screw it up? No.”
In the interview, Schumer said he has briefed his colleagues on the new messaging campaign, and that Democrats are going to use their new-ish catchphrase again and again across the country in health-care themed rallies beginning Jan. 15, as they try to make the case to Republicans that there will be a political cost to voting for repeal.
It’s one piece of an all-out effort to salvage Obamacare, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement. Obama is coming to Capitol Hill Wednesday, in an attempt to rally Democrats around the shared goal of saving the law. At the same time, Vice President-elect Mike Pence is meeting with Republicans about rolling it back.
“Our message is not just on Obamacare. Our message is don’t cut health care,” Schumer said, sitting in his new second-floor Capitol office Tuesday afternoon. “Medicare. Medicaid. Obamacare.”
Schumer is remarkably confident that Senate Democrats, who face a challenging election map in 2018, have no interest in helping their Republican colleagues rework the law.
“I’ve talked to just about every one of my colleagues,” Schumer said. “Obviously they’re not going to say we won’t look at anything. But the idea of just tweaking a Republican plan that takes away these benefits, the bottom line is there is virtual unanimity in our caucus that we’re all from Missouri: Show me. If they show us a plan, and it’s a plan that we can live with, of course. But we’re not going to sit down in a room with them once they repeal and say let’s figure out a joint plan.”
Of course, the political dynamics could change. Schumer is at the helm of a Senate Democratic Caucus that includes red-state Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri — all of whom are up for re-election next year. Some Senate Democrats have signaled an openness to negotiating with Republicans on a new plan.
And, in perhaps a nod to the competing liberal wing in his caucus, Schumer warned that if Republicans decide to simply tinker with Obamacare, his members would seek to drag it to the left.
“Some of us might want to offer a public option if you kept Obamacare, not if you repealed it,” Schumer said. “Some of us would want to give the insurance regulators more clout to come down on the insurance companies. Things like that.”
The New York Democrat — a 36-year veteran of Congress — is now one of the most powerful people in an all Republican Washington. How he positions himself and Senate Democrats is one of the dynamics that will be most closely watched during the next two years.
Schumer, of course, knows Trump from New York political circles, and the president-elect’s team has tried to paint the minority leader as an ally. Schumer flatly rejects it.
“He was a Democrat,” Schumer said, adding he never went to dinner with Trump. “And I asked all the big Democrats in New York to help the DSCC and he had a big fundraiser at Mar-A-Lago for the DSCC that helped us take back the Senate. God bless him. But I don’t know him that well. And it doesn’t matter. What matters is are the issues and our values, not pats on the back. They can try to flatter me, it’s not going to work.”