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 CornynGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall 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 SchumerCongress: Americans in Puerto Rico still need our help Airbnb is doing the Democrats' dirty work Protecting our judiciary must be a priority in the 116th Congress 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 CollinsGOP seeks to change narrative in shutdown fight Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World 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 JohnsonCongress sends bill renewing anti-terrorism program to Trump The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval 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 MurkowskiNew momentum for Equal Rights Amendment Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World 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 CarperSenate Dems introduce bill to keep DACA info private IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing 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 AlexanderGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices McConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks 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 McCainOvernight Health Care: HHS chief refuses to testify on family separations | Grassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices | PhRMA spends record on lobbying in 2018 Will a Democratic woman break the glass ceiling in 2020? Republican state lawmaker introduces bill that would tax porn to fund Trump's border wall 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 PaulSinkhole opens up a block away from White House Civil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal 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.