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Conservatives: Working with Dems on healthcare a waste of time

Conservatives: Working with Dems on healthcare a waste of time
© Greg Nash

Conservatives are pushing back on the idea of working with Democrats to pass a bipartisan ObamaCare fix if the current repeal effort fails.

With the prospects of the Senate’s current repeal-and-replace bill passing next week deeply in doubt, some more moderate Republicans say they are open to a bipartisan bill to shore up ObamaCare markets — a drastic break from the GOP’s usual fierce opposition to the healthcare law.

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That openness to a bipartisan Plan B if the current effort fails is alarming more conservative Republicans. 

“When [Senate Democratic Leader Charles] Schumer [N.Y.] talks about doing something bipartisan if this is unsuccessful, really what he’s offering is a multibillion dollar insurance company bailout with no reform,” said Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynRepublicans divided over legislation protecting Mueller Democrats mull audacious play to block Pompeo Overnight Energy: Senate confirms Bridenstine as NASA chief | Watchdog probes Pruitt’s use of security detail | Emails shine light on EPA science policy changes MORE (R-Texas). “And I can’t imagine me ever being in a position to support that, and I frankly wouldn’t recommend it to any of my colleagues.”

The House could be even more of an obstacle than the Senate.

“To suggest that Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThrowing some cold water on all of the Korean summit optimism House Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Congress should build on the momentum from spending bill MORE is actually going to help out on a repeal bill defies not only his own rhetoric, but his commitment to his constituents,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “He said he’s not going to help us. So are we going to fix ObamaCare? The answer to that is no.”

“You can’t fix ObamaCare,” said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs for the conservative group FreedomWorks. “They campaigned for more than seven years on repeal.”

Conservatives point out that every Senate Republican except Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSunday Shows Preview: Emmanuel Macron talks ahead of state dinner GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees Overnight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign MORE (Maine) voted for a repeal bill in 2015, without any replacement pieces.

Pye said the GOP senators now uncertain on ObamaCare repeal should be held to their earlier votes.

“Let’s stop calling them moderate Republicans, let’s start calling them frauds,” Pye said. “Their votes in 2015 were fraudulent votes.”

However, other Republicans say that some action will be needed to shore up ObamaCare markets if the current bill doesn’t pass.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: Congress needs ‘to move on’ from Russia probe GOP senator: ‘Way too early’ to talk about supporting Trump in 2020 IG report faults fired FBI official McCabe for leak to media MORE (R-Wis.) has for months called for a bipartisan stabilization bill that would guarantee funding for ObamaCare payments, known as cost-sharing reductions, to insurers. Those payments are key to avoiding premium spikes and keeping insurers in the markets.

Johnson said Tuesday that he hopes the GOP can pass something next week, but if not, “bite the bullet and stabilize those markets.”

Asked if a bipartisan stabilization bill would be needed if the current GOP bill fails, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said, “I presume.”

He left the door open to supporting such a measure.

“It depends on what it looks like, but I want to stabilize the insurance market,” Cassidy said. “Families are paying too high premiums, so we’ve got to lower premiums.”

Collins has been even more eager for a bipartisan fix.

“I want to work [with] my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in [the Affordable Care Act],” she tweeted last month. 

Collins told reporters on Tuesday that she has had six Democrats recently approach her to talk about a “compromise bill.”

“Anyone who has looked at the state of the individual and small group markets across this country knows that doing nothing is not an answer,” she added. 

Asked about working with Democrats, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators press administration on mental health parity Overnight Energy: Watchdogs unveil findings on EPA, Interior controversies | GAO says EPA violated law with soundproof booth | IG says Zinke could have avoided charter flight | GOP chair probes Pruitt's four email addresses GOP fractures over push to protect Russia probe MORE (R-Alaska), who has deep concerns about the current Senate GOP bill, said Wednesday, “That’s still on my table.”

In addition to funding the cost-sharing reductions, Democrats are calling for establishing a program called “reinsurance,” which is intended to help bring down premiums by providing federal funds to help offset insurers’ costs for especially sick enrollees.

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperGOP chairman probes Pruitt’s four email addresses Watchdog requests probe into relationship between top EPA aide and man investigating him Overnight Finance: Wells Fargo could pay B fine | Dems seek info on loans to Kushner | House to vote on IRS reform bills | Fed vice chair heading before Congress MORE (Del.), a centrist Democrat, said he has recently spoken to about a third of the Senate Republican Conference about a potential bipartisan healthcare bill. 

Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe risk of kicking higher ed reauthorization down the road Maternal deaths keep rising in US, raising scrutiny Supreme Court weighs future of online sales taxes MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, is also seen as a potential backer of a bipartisan stabilization bill if the current effort fails.

Carper said he and Alexander had spoken “a number of times.”

On stabilization, Carper added, “I think he understands that’s probably one of the first things we ought to do.”

Carper said he also spoke with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump considering pardon for boxing legend after call from Sylvester Stallone GOP poised to advance rules change to speed up Trump nominees The Hill's Morning Report: Inside the Comey memos MORE (R-Ariz.) this week about the need to go through the “regular order” process of holding hearings and committee markups on a bill.

“We were just talking about where we are on this matter and we both agreed that a big part of the solution here is regular order,” Carper said.

McCain himself said Sunday on CBS that he thinks the GOP should start over and go through the committee process, working with Democrats. This talk of a narrower, bipartisan fix, though, is rankling conservative Republicans.

“I’ve yet to meet a Democrat in Washington that will vote to cut a tax or vote to eliminate a regulation,” Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPompeo lacks votes for positive vote on panel CIA declassifies memo on nominee's handling of interrogation tapes Overnight Defense: House to begin work on defense policy bill | Panel to vote Monday on Pompeo | Trump to deliver Naval Academy commencement speech | Trump appeals decision blocking suspected combatant's transfer MORE (R-Ky.) said. 

“Really, a big part of Obama-Care is taxes and regulations,” he added.

“We can’t even get Republicans to agree anymore to cut taxes or eliminate regulations, much less Democrats.”

Jessie Hellmann, Nathaniel Weixel and Cristina Marcos contributed.