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Shutdown Averted: White House Backs Down On Health Care Demands


The White House and Congress were preparing for a showdown this week. It could have led to a partial shutdown of the federal government just as President Trump was marking his 100th day in office. Now, it looks like a crisis averted because the White House is backing off of some key demands. NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now in the studio with the latest. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: The White House had already indicated that it would not demand funding for a border wall right now. And today, there is another shift related to health care. Tell us about it.

LIASSON: That's right. The White House has decided not to hold the insurance companies' subsidies hostage to a government shutdown. Donald Trump had floated the idea of stopping the payments to insurance companies. These payments keep the Obamacare marketplaces going.

He said that threat would force Democrats to agree to include money for the border wall in the government funding bill but the Democrats didn't cave in. After all, they said, Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall. Then the president backed off the insistence that the money for the wall be included in the funding bill. And then today, he also backed off of his threat to basically unravel the Obamacare exchanges.

SHAPIRO: Does this mean that there will not be a government shutdown?

LIASSON: Yes, this means there will not be a government shutdown because everyone agreed they didn't want the government to shut down. Republicans would have been blamed. After all, they control the entire government. And keeping the government open is the most basic responsibility of a majority party. And Republicans on Capitol Hill also didn't want to unravel the Obamacare exchanges because they would have been blamed for millions of people losing coverage.

So it was already looking almost certain that there would be no shutdown. Once the president backed off his insistence on wall funding last week, now it's for sure there won't be a shutdown. Look. If you are not willing to go all the way and threaten a shutdown, which no one was willing to do, then you give up your leverage. And that is why this perennial brinkmanship about shutting down the government is so ridiculous.

SHAPIRO: What do you make of President Trump's willingness to back down from both of these issues, the border wall and health care?

LIASSON: I think this tells us a lot about his negotiating skills, which do not seem to be as advertised. He said that he was the master of the art of the deal but he has consistently negotiated with himself, called his own bluff, capitulated, all the while confusing his Republican negotiating partners on Capitol Hill and failing to intimidate his Democratic adversaries.

And just to review, the president of the United States toyed with threatening to shut down the government or force millions of people off health care, both of which he would have been blamed for. And then he said never mind. And even his own cheering section and the person of conservative radio, talk show host Rush Limbaugh, said it looks from here that President Trump caved.

SHAPIRO: What does this mean for people who get their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act?

LIASSON: For now, Obamacare remains as is. These payments, at least for now, will continue to go to the insurance companies. And the insurance companies use the payments to mitigate deductibles and co-pays.

Insurers say that if they lost the subsidies, they'd have to raise co-pays and premiums. Then people would stop dropping their policies because they couldn't afford both the premiums and the co-pays. So Obamacare is going to remain until Republicans can actually figure out how to repeal and replace it.

SHAPIRO: And you were in this studio last week talking about President Trump's promise that this week there would be a new proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Clearly, that doesn't look like it's going to happen this week.

LIASSON: No. We have not heard about the new proposal this week. It's not going to happen.

SHAPIRO: Not even any legislative language that we've seen publicly?

LIASSON: No legislative language.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.