Key Senate Republican warns GOP to change course on ObamaCare

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (R-Tenn.) on Thursday told GOP colleagues bluntly that their efforts to repeal ObamaCare have failed and urged them to change course.

Alexander said Republicans need to come up with a new path on health care after holding dozens of votes over the years to repeal ObamaCare and always ending in failure.

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“We’ve had about 50 votes, maybe more, and we lost them all. And we made thousands of speeches and we lost them all,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.

He said that insisting on full repeal of the controversial law when the votes aren’t there would only hurt millions of Americans and could eventually lead to a single-payer health-care system if the current one collapses.

“I would ask what’s conservative about unaffordable premiums?” Alexander asked. “What’s conservative about creating chaos so millions can’t buy health insurance?”

Alexander argued the time has come for fellow Republicans to embrace a deal he negotiated with Democratic Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayDemocrats turn on Al Franken VA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Wash.) to shore up faltering individual insurance markets.

He argued that Republicans haven’t made any progress over the past seven years to give the states more flexibility in creating insurance policies for the individual markets.

He said his agreement with Murray would do that.

Alexander revealed that he has 11 Republican co-sponsors for a bill that would fund cost-sharing reduction subsidies through the end of 2019 in exchange for giving states more flexibility to waive ObamaCare’s regulatory obligations.

GOP Sens. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsTrump should fill CFPB vacancy with Export-Import chief Tax bill could fuel push for Medicare, Social Security cuts Senate passes tax overhaul, securing major GOP victory MORE (S.D.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China MORE (S.C.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (Ariz.), Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyTax bill could fuel push for Medicare, Social Security cuts Collins to vote for GOP tax plan Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday MORE (La.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE (Maine), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy US trade deficit rises on record imports from China Flake, GOP senators to meet with Trump on trade MORE (Iowa), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments GOP on verge of opening Arctic refuge to drilling MORE (Alaska), Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSessions argued presidents can obstruct justice in Clinton impeachment trial Trump Jr. to meet with Senate panel amid Russia probe Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal MORE (N.C.), and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' MORE (Tenn.) are among the co-sponsors.

He said the bill would authorize states to offer catastrophic insurance policies for people of all ages, encourage agreements to sell insurance across state lines and streamline the process for states to obtain federal regulatory waivers for innovative health insurance plans.

“It changes a law to make it easier for states like Iowa, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Alaska and many others to use their creativity to write policies that offer more choices and lower costs,” he said.

Some conservatives criticized the proposal when Alexander announced it earlier this week and President Trump indicated in a tweet that he might not support it either.

“I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday.

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than 150 House Republicans, also dismissed the deal.

“The GOP should focus on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, not on trying to save it,” he wrote on Twitter. “This bailout is unacceptable.”

Alexander pushed back on Thursday by noting that Trump called him while at dinner last week and asked the chairman to come up with a short-term deal to protect people from rising health-care premiums while lawmakers worked on another bill to permanently repeal and replace ObamaCare.

“I want to thank President Trump for his encouragement. He’s the one who called me 10 days ago and called me again last Saturday and called me twice yesterday,” Alexander recounted.

He said Trump told him, “I think I can get block grants to replace ObamaCare, but I don’t want people to suffer in the meantime.”

Alexander said House Republicans should support the measure because the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill they passed in May included language to extend the cost-sharing reduction payments for two years.

“The Congressional Budget Office has told us that if we don’t do it, if we let them expire, premiums in 2018 will go up an average of 20 percent,” he said.