President Donald Trump has made it explicit: He is taking Obamacare hostage to try to force Democrats to work with him on health care reform.
The president has a real basis for the threat. A lawsuit working its way through the courts right now threatens crucial subsidies that help lower costs for millions of people who bought their insurance through Obamacare. Those subsidies are known as cost-sharing reductions. The Obama administration had been defending the subsidies, but Trump could choose to end them. This could throw the insurance market into chaos. Health insurers are already nervous about that possibility.
Trump just threw more gas on that fire, in an interview with the Wall Street Journalpublished Wednesday.
"Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn't get that money," he mused. "I haven't made my viewpoint clear yet."
But, politically speaking, there is a critical flaw in Trump's plan. Polling pretty definitively shows that Americans will hold the new White House and Congress responsible for what happens to Obamacare. If that's true, following through on his threat would likely hurt Trump more than his opponents. He doesn't seem to have any real leverage, and Democrats are already brushing off his threats.
This is likely to be the big health care fight. Now that the GOP's own bill to overhaul Obamacare has stalled, the next battleground is for Trump to attack the law. But hanging in the balance are these subsidies that help make health coverage affordable for millions of Americans.