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Spending bill on track days ahead of shutdown deadline

Andrew Taylor
Associated Press

Washington — The White House and congressional Democrats on Wednesday defused a tense standoff over payments for the working poor under the health care law, keeping a massive government spending bill on track just days ahead of a shutdown deadline.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday backed away from a threat to immediately withhold payments to help people with modest incomes with out-of-pocket medical expenses under the Affordable Care Act.

The dispute with Democrats threatened to hold up the $1 trillion-plus spending bill. A temporary funding bill expires Friday at midnight, and GOP leaders readied plans to pass another short-term spending bill to prevent a government shutdown this weekend — Trump’s 100th day in office.

The weeks-long sniping over the health care issue had snagged the talks, which gained momentum this week after Trump dropped demands for immediate money for building his long-promised border wall.

“Our major concerns in these negotiations have been about funding for the wall and uncertainty about the ... payments crucial to the stability of the marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “We’ve now made progress on both of these fronts.”

Partisan disagreements over the environment, abortion and GOP efforts to reverse Obama-era financial regulations continue to dog the negotiations, but both the administration and many congressional Democrats were hopeful of sealing an agreement relatively soon.

The massive spending measure, which would wrap together 11 unfinished spending bills into a single omnibus bill, represents the first real bipartisan legislation of Trump’s presidency.

Democratic votes are needed to pass the measure over tea party opposition in the House and to provide enough support to clear a filibuster hurdle in the Senate, which has led negotiators ignore an $18 billion roster of unpopular spending cuts submitted by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Even though Republicans have voted numerous times to gut Obamacare, many are opposed to cutting off the cost-sharing payments right away, which could cause the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces to collapse.

At issue is the $175 billion the government is paying to reimburse health insurers over a decade to reduce deductibles and co-payments for lower-income people. In a lawsuit, the House argued that Congress never appropriated that money, and a federal judge agreed that the administration exceeded its constitutional authority by spending it anyway. The Obama administration appealed, but after Trump won the election the case was put on hold.