Donald Trump’s Threat to Sabotage Families’ Health Care

American Bridge spokesperson Andrew Bates released the following statement after Donald Trump’s cynical political threat to hurt millions of families by withholding cost-sharing reductions for health insurance:

“Sabotaging the marketplace to force spikes in premiums, just to score political points, is one of the most petty and reckless thing this President has suggested to date, and that’s saying a lot. It takes an exceptionally disgusting person to play these kinds of games on behalf of bill that would boot 26 million from their insurance in order to fund tax cuts for the rich.”

Wall Street Journal: Trump Threatens to Withhold Payments to Insurers to Press Democrats on Health Bill

‘Democrats will start calling me’ if turmoil hits insurance markets, President Donald Trump tells The Wall Street Journal

By Gerard Baker, Michael C. Bender and Carol E. Lee
Updated April 12, 2017 5:06 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Almost three weeks after canceling a vote on his health-care package over infighting among his fellow Republicans and opposition from Democrats, President Donald Trump dug back into the fight on Wednesday, threatening to withhold payments to insurers to force Democrats to the negotiating table.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said the executive branch may lack legal authority to make the payments established under his predecessor to reduce copayments and deductibles for some of the poorest customers who buy insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Cutting off the payments could trigger turmoil in insurance markets.

“I don’t want people to get hurt,” Mr. Trump said. “What I think should happen—and will happen—is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

In a 70-minute interview that touched on a range of foreign policy and domestic issues, Mr. Trump said he wouldn’t release any guidelines for a promised overhaul of the tax code until a health-care bill passes. He held out hope that Republicans could forge a new health-care law despite the failed previous effort and subsequent talks that didn’t yield a deal between the Freedom Caucus group of conservative lawmakers and centrist Republicans.

Mr. Trump said recent reports of infighting among his senior staff—particularly chief strategist Steve Bannon and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner—were “overblown.” But he referred to Mr. Bannon as “a guy who works for me” and noted that he, Mr. Trump, was his own “strategist.”

He also said Sean Spicer, his press secretary, “made a mistake” in saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad committed atrocities worse than Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. Mr. Spicer has issued several apologies since.

The president said it was “horrible” that a bloodied passenger was dragged off a United Airlines plane in Chicago after refusing to give up his seat when the carrier oversold the flight.

Mr. Trump said that airlines shouldn’t be prevented from overselling flights, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has suggested. Instead, Mr. Trump said, carriers should remove upper limits on vouchers so that passengers willingly give up seats.

“You know, there’s a point at which I’m getting off the plane—seriously,” said Mr. Trump, a billionaire. “They should have gone up higher. But to just randomly say, ‘You’re getting off the plane,’ that was terrible.”

Asked repeatedly about his plans for a new tax law—which Mr. Trump has said would increase economic growth, job creation and a spark a renewal in American manufacturing—the president consistently turned the conversation back to health care.

When the Journal asked if he would agree even to release guidelines from which lawmakers could begin writing tax legislation, Mr. Trump said, simply, “No.”

“I’m going to get health care done,” Mr. Trump said.

He said his team was “very, very close” on new health-care legislation and expressed faith in the Freedom Caucus, a band of House lawmakers whose opposition doomed the first health package.

“They want to do the right thing,” Mr. Trump said about the Freedom Caucus. “They do like their president.”

Several times he steered the conversation back to the subsidies to health insurers, known as cost-sharing reductions, that help prop up the Obamacare system.

A lawsuit instigated by GOP-controlled House under then-Speaker John Boehner and initially brought against President Barack Obama’s Health Secretary, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, contends the White House lacks the authority to pay insurers this money. The suit asserts the payments were made without the required congressional appropriation; the Obama administration argued the funds were made available in another part of the act that provided money from the U.S. Treasury for other subsidies that reduce the cost of health insurance.

“He wasn’t allowed to do that,” Mr. Trump said about his predecessor, Mr. Obama. “It’s actually a big story that a lot of people don’t know about. They’ll find out about it, perhaps.”

A federal judge in 2016 ruled the government payments were improper but let them continue while the Obama administration pursued an appeal. After Mr. Trump’s election, Republicans requested and received an initial delay in the case.

Mr. Trump declined to say whether Congress should approve the spending, or, if not, whether he would end the payments by settling the suit and dropping the appeal.

“Schumer should be calling me up and begging me to help him save Obamacare,” Mr. Trump said about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a fellow New Yorker. “He should be calling me and begging me to help him save Obamacare, along with Nancy Pelosi, ” the top Democrat in the House.

Mr. Trump said Democrats should be motivated to find negotiate on health care because “they own Obamacare.”

Still, he acknowledged that dynamic is quickly shifting.

“That’s part of the reason that I may go the other way” on the insurance payments, he said. “The longer I’m behind this desk and you have Obamacare, the more I would own it.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com