House conservatives brace for ObamaCare payments in funding bill

House conservatives brace for ObamaCare payments in funding bill
© Camille Fine

House conservatives are bracing for ObamaCare payments to be included in a coming government funding bill, despite their opposition.

Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMcMorris Rodgers seeks to tamp down unrest Overnight Finance: Mulvaney remark on lobbyists stuns Washington | Macron takes swipe at Trump tariffs | Conservatives eye tax cut on capital gains | Gillibrand unveils post office banking bill | GOP chairman pushes banks on gun policies Top banking Dem calls for Mulvaney to resign after lobbyist remarks MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday that he expects the controversial ObamaCare payments aimed at stabilizing markets to be included in the omnibus government funding bill, which must pass by March 23 to avoid a shutdown.

While conservatives have long objected to the payments, the omnibus is expected to pass with significant Democratic support, limiting their ability to stop them.

Meadows on Wednesday seemed almost resigned to the payments being included.

Asked if he had concerns, Meadows told reporters, “Well, I don't think that they're counting on our votes to pass the omnibus.”

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Some members of both parties argue that making the ObamaCare payments would help bring down premiums and stabilize the market.

Many electorally vulnerable House Republicans are supporting the payments, and some observers note that without the money, Republicans could be blamed for premium increases announced in October, a month before the midterm elections.

While there is momentum behind the ObamaCare provision, there is no deal yet, as lawmakers in both parties are still negotiating. The two kinds of payments under discussion are cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which reimburse insurers for giving discounts to low-income enrollees, and reinsurance, which is money to help cover the cost of sick enrollees and bring down premiums.

One major obstacle to a deal is abortion.

Democrats say Republicans are going too far in demanding restrictions on the ObamaCare funding being used for abortions.

A Senate Democratic aide said Republicans want to go farther than the usual Hyde Amendment restrictions on federal funding going to abortions. Instead, the aide said, Republicans want to prevent the CSR payments from going to any insurer that covers abortions, regardless of whether the federal funding is being directly used on the abortion.

Asked about going further than the Hyde language, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenMake-or-break moment for EPA chief Pruitt Overnight Health Care: New allegations against VA nominee | Dems worry House moving too fast on opioid bills | HHS chief back in DC | FDA reexamines safety of controversial Parkinson's drug Top Dems on Energy and Commerce panel concerned House opioid push moving too quickly MORE (R-Ore.) said he did not want to get into specifics.

But he noted that Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcMorris Rodgers seeks to tamp down unrest Conservative group unveils plan to slash spending by trillion Arizona GOP winner to join Freedom Caucus MORE (R-Wis.) has long said that Hyde restrictions must be included on the ObamaCare payments for them to pass the House.

"While the decision for its inclusion has not been made, any appropriation for CSRs or reinsurance would need to be Hyde compliant," said Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong. "That is not negotiable for House Republicans."

The White House also threw something of a curveball into talks on Tuesday with the circulation of a document requesting the inclusion of several conservative policies opposed by Democrats. Those policies included allowing older people to be charged five-times more than younger people and expanding cheaper, skimpier health plans known as short-term plans.

Democrats denounced the White House proposal. But congressional Republicans did not seem to put too much weight into the document.

Walden said on Wednesday he had not seen the document and had not heard directly from the White House on what it wants in the package.

A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats got the White House document from lobbyists and reporters; the White House did not send it to them.

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Trump's VA pick on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for nominee | Senate panel approves opioid bill | FDA cracking down on e-cig sales to kids Trump's nominee for the VA is on the ropes Senate Health panel approves opioid bill MORE (Wash.), the lead Democrat on the issue, warned that the White House push for conservative changes could derail the talks.

“I certainly hope the President and Republican leaders won’t once again sabotage an opportunity to undo some of the damage they’ve done by choosing to play politics with women’s health and making last-minute, harmful demands that would raise families’ costs even more and place an age tax on seniors,” Murray said in a statement.

The clock is ticking for an agreement to be reached soon. The government funding bill could be voted on in the House as soon as next week.

And if the payments are not included in that measure, it's unclear how it could pass before the midterms. Work on major legislation is expected to grind to a halt once the omnibus is passed.

Insurers say they need to know soon whether the payments will be made so they can plan their premium rates for next year.

Walden expressed optimism that the payments would be included.

“Certainly I think there's a growing understanding that there's a need to act in this space if we're going to have an individual market that's affordable and successful, and so there are pretty good discussions going on at all levels,” he said.