Durbin okays Dem meeting with GOP centrists on ObamaCare

Durbin okays Dem meeting with GOP centrists on ObamaCare
© Greg Nash

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Too many Americans go to prison but Congress can fix this problem This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Tuesday it is alright if Democrats talk with two GOP authors of a more centrist Republican plan on healthcare because the pair is looking “beyond repeal.”

Democratic leaders said Republicans must drop their efforts to repeal ObamaCare before any bipartisan talks can happen. Some centrist Democrats, though, met with Republicans in a meeting organized by Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Maine) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Monday night. 

Durbin said that meeting was alright because Collins and Cassidy are not like most Republicans on the issue, adding that he has met with them as well. 

“I think Collins and Cassidy have shown more good faith than most when it comes to that very issue,” Durbin said. “I've talked to both of them privately and I want to continue that dialogue because I think they're beyond repeal; they're talking about making it stronger.”

Durbin said Democrats are united in wanting Republicans to take repeal off the table as a first step. 

"I'm not going to discourage dialogue because our caucus is united on a few basic principles," Durbin said. "One of those principles is we don't want to talk about the Affordable Care Act until Republicans take repeal off the table. Once they take repeal off the table, let's sit down and talk about how to make it a better Act, cover more people with health insurance, make it more affordable, there are things we can do together." 

Cassidy and Collins are the authors of a more centrist healthcare plan that would allow states to keep much of ObamaCare if they choose. 

Senators said the meeting Monday was preliminary and just discussed ideas broadly, but the push for a bipartisan solution has at least some chance of emerging as an alternative to the Republican-only repeal-and-replace approach from leadership.

“There is a group of us, both Republicans and Democrats, who are trying to see if there is a bipartisan path forward on healthcare reform,” Collins told reporters after the meeting. “I don't know yet whether there is but we thought it would be useful to invite some people to sit down and talk about ideas and talk about whether it would be possible to come up with a bipartisan bill.” 

Earlier this month, all 48 Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Republicans saying they would work in a bipartisan way on healthcare if the GOP dropped its repeal efforts first. 

“If repeal is abandoned, we stand ready to work with you to help all Americans get the affordable health care they need,” the Democrats wrote. 

This story was updated at 4:21 p.m.