As Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló travels to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump on Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats is asking the administration about the accuracy of the island territory’s death toll.

Thirteen senators, led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have written a new letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke expressing concern that reports about morgues at Puerto Rican hospitals being full may signal that the official tally of 48 fatalities may be incomplete.

“An accurate death toll is important for understanding the true severity of the situation on the ground, for recognizing potential problems and vulnerabilities, for assessing the quality of the disaster response so far, and for setting policy going forward,” the senators wrote.

Four weeks since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, more than 80 percent of residents remain without electricity, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Access to fresh food, clean water and medicine remains scarce in many parts of the island.

Warren was joined by her colleague from Massachusetts, Sen. Edward J. Markey, along with members of the Senate Democratic conference from across the country in signing the letter to Duke.

They wrote they were echoing concerns previously raised by Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Nydia Velázquez of New York.

Thompson is the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, and Velázquez was born in Puerto Rico.

“The aftermath of the hurricane continues to pose a mortal danger to many people on Puerto Rico,” the senators wrote. “There are concerns about dengue, chikungunya, and Zika. Puerto Ricans have been obtaining water from a contaminated Superfund site.”

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Opinion

Capitol Ink | Poetry Sessions

By Robert Matson
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Most Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump’s decision to end Obama-era federal subsidies to insurers that lower costs for low- and middle-income families, a new poll found.

Fifty-three percent of respondents to an Economist/YouGov poll conducted Oct. 15 and 16 said they disapproved of the executive move, compared to 31 percent who were in favor. Sixteen percent declined to give an opinion.

Publicly, the administration claimed it was closing the executive payment schedule because it was unconstitutional. It is also part of a broader effort to completely roll back the 2010 health care law, a GOP promise seven years in the making.

“The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system,” the White House said in a statement.

But Trump’s decision was politically motivated, too. He has been upset with Congress’s creeping pace of operations and hopes this will prompt Congressional Republicans to reboot their repeal-and-replace effort.

“Congress needs to repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare law,” the statement said.

In the meantime, Congress can restore the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments through legislation. The president has signaled he could support such a stopgap measure.

Fifty-two percent of respondents to the Economist/YouGov poll said Congress should indeed restore the subsidies. Just 21 percent thought Congress should not restore the CSR payments.

Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee struck a bipartisan deal Tuesday to stabilize the insurance markets for at least two and a half years.

The plan would provide funding for the rest of the year, 2018 and 2019 for the cost-sharing subsidies to insurers, which are required to help lower-income consumers cover their bills under the 2010 health care law. It would give more flexibility to states seeking Section 1332 waivers, which allow states to bypass the health care law’s rules under certain conditions.

That flexibility would make it easier for states to obtain the waivers and easier for federal officials to approve more types of waivers, Alexander said. The law’s requirements on health care benefits and banning insurers from charging more for pre-existing conditions would not be touched, he said.

Instead, the proposal would allow for “comparable affordability,” Alexander said. In addition, individuals over age 30 would be eligible to purchase catastrophic plans offering basic coverage.

An overwhelming majority — 81 percent — of Americans are at least somewhat concerned about health care reform, the poll found.

Forty-five percent said they believed their coverage costs would increase as a result of the administration halting CSR payments.

It is unclear whether the Murray-Alexander proposal can navigate its way to the oval office for Trump’s signature, despite an endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y..

Senate Republican leaders were noncommittal.

“It could get attached to some vehicle or it could move freestanding,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the third-ranking Senate Republican. “I guess it depends on if there’s a bipartisan agreement and the Democrats and Republicans agree on a path forward.”

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, wrote on Twitter, “The GOP should focus on repealing & replacing Obamacare, not trying to save it. This bailout is unacceptable.”

But only 30 percent of respondents think Trump has a plan to replace Obamacare, compared to 48 percent who say he doesn’t.

The web-based poll gathered responses from 1,500 U.S. adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percent. The sample was weighted based on gender, age, race, education, 2012 and 2016 Presidential votes (or non-votes).

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What’s a Senate Vote-A-Rama?

By Niels Lesniewski, Bian Elkhatib, Thomas McKinless
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Trump Keeps Adding to the Congressional To-Do List

By John T. Bennett, D.A. Banks, Thomas McKinless
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House and Senate Republicans are likely to wrangle over their competing budget resolutions to pave the way for a tax overhaul, says CQ budget reporter Ryan McCrimmon, who also explains why disaster aid is likely to increase.

Show Notes:

Lowey, top Dem on Approps, says Congress should add funding to Trump request, for CDBG, repairing roads, ports, coastlines, etc.

Bob Corker, very excited about sitting in this budget markup right now.

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