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24 hours later, Senate health deal all but completely dead

24 hours later, Senate health deal all but completely dead
© Greg Nash

A Senate healthcare deal to extend critical ObamaCare payments to insurers appears all but completely dead just 24 hours after it was announced.

President Trump reversed course Wednesday and said he opposed the deal, while Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBoehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be Cruz hires Trump campaign press aide as communications director MORE’s (R-Wis.) office said the Senate should keep its focus on repealing and replacing President Obama’s signature law.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill MORE (S.D.), the third-ranking Senate Republican, acknowledged the deal had “stalled out.”

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Some Republican senators said they were working on changes to move the bill in a more conservative direction, but those efforts appeared to have little chance of success.

Democrats, who hailed the agreement on Tuesday, signaled they were preparing to blame Republicans for walking away from the deal crafted by Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBiden convenes bipartisan meeting on cancer research Pro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Senate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden MORE (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat.

“Lamar and Patty came up with a deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRon Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (N.Y.) told reporters. “This is the agreement.”

The compromise would provide two years of payments to insurers, compensating them for lowering the out-of-pocket health care costs of certain ObamaCare enrollees. Trump announced he was canceling the payments last week, arguing the previous administration lacked the authority to make them.

Without the payments, the Congressional Budget Office has said premiums could rise as much as 20 percent, and enrollment would likely fall.

Democrats say Trump is seeking to sabotage the law by ending the payments, along with other administrative moves he’s made that they say could damage ObamaCare.

The Alexander-Murray language would also grant states more flexibility to waive ObamaCare rules, a key Republican ask. Lower-cost insurance plans that provide fewer benefits, known as copper plans, would be allowed.

In a nod to Democratic demands, it would provide states with $106 million to fund ObamaCare outreach. Trump had slashed the money for advertising by 90 percent. 

Conservatives have called the payments to insurers a bailout, an argument echoed by Trump on Wednesday.

In response, Alexander said that he was open to adding any language the White House might have to strengthen a provision already in the bill to ensure that insurers can’t keep the payments for themselves, but rather have to pass savings on to consumers in the form of rebates or another mechanism.   

Alexander has been trying to rally support by warning Republicans that premiums would increase 20 percent without the insurer payments and there would be chaos in the market. There’s not much time left, as ObamaCare’s exchanges open for business Nov. 1. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senate relief package earmarks B for global coronavirus response MORE (R-Wis.) said he is pushing for more sweeping changes to move the bill to the right, and has spoken with Alexander. 

Johnson is seeking to increase the duration of short-term health plans; expand health savings accounts; not enforce the employer mandate; and waive the individual mandate penalty for 2017. 

Johnson argues he’s working to shore up conservative support in the House.

“[Alexander and I] are both interested in getting a result,” Johnson told reporters Wednesday. “He's dealing with the hurdle of the Senate. I'm trying, to some extent, to deal with the hurdle in the House and maybe both of our efforts can come together and show members of Congress that this is what we're going to need to do to really alleviate the increasing premiums, which are going to hurt Americans.”

It seems unlikely that Democrats will agree to any of those demands, however.

Schumer blasted Trump for reversing course after the president had previously made phone calls to Alexander encouraging the talks. He warned that ObamaCare was becoming TrumpCare given the administration’s actions, and that the GOP would own it.

“The president's in charge,” Schumer said. “Republicans have the House and Senate. If there's problems in the healthcare system, it falls on their shoulders.” 

Many observers think folding the deal into a government funding bill in December is its best chance of passage. Schumer said that is one option, though he held out hope the agreement could pass before then. 

Only a handful of Republicans, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date MORE (Alaska), Mike RoundsMike RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (S.D.), John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFormer Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra MORE (Ariz.) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerIt's time for Biden's Cuba GOP lawmaker patience runs thin with Trump tactics Former GOP senator: Republicans cannot let Trump's 'reckless' post-election claims stand MORE (Tenn.), have said they support the deal. Murkowski and McCain voted against the a scaled-down ObamaCare repeal bill in July, helping to sink the measure. 

“Obviously until the president’s on board, yes there are probably changes that need to be made to satisfy the president,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican, said. “I think the president's support is going to be key.”