ObamaCare fight could threaten shutdown deal
A fight over ObamaCare is spilling into Congress’s December agenda, threatening lawmakers’ ability to keep the government open.
President Trump signed stopgap legislation Friday aimed at averting a shutdown and keeping the government funded through Dec. 22. The bill allows lawmakers to focus on the next — and seemingly more difficult — negotiating period.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have a host of priorities they want to include in the bill, but the question of funding ObamaCare’s cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments appears to have divided Republicans.
Senate Republicans want to include the cost-sharing payments in the spending package, but House conservatives have little interest in funding subsidies they see as bailing out a law they despise.
Senate Republican leaders view the payments as a necessary bargaining chip.
In order to pass their tax-reform bill and get a much-needed legislative victory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a deal with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a key swing vote.
In exchange for Collins’s vote for the tax bill, McConnell gave an “ironclad commitment” to pass a pair of bipartisan bills.
One bill, sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would temporarily fund the cost-sharing payments. Another would provide “reinsurance” — money to pay for the costs of sick enrollees and bring down premiums.
Together, the bills would shore up ObamaCare’s insurance markets, which experts predict could be gutted by a provision of the tax bill that repeals the mandate to buy health insurance.
But the commitment to Collins came from McConnell, who can’t force the House to take up legislation. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) hasn’t given any indication that he would support passing the ObamaCare bills, though he also hasn’t ruled it out.
“I wasn’t part of those conversations,” Ryan told reporters Thursday when was asked about McConnell’s promise to Collins. “I’m not deeply familiar with those conversations.”
Earlier in the week, Ryan reiterated his commitment to repealing ObamaCare, but didn’t tip his hand on the spending bill.
“We think health care is deteriorating. We think premiums are going up through the roof, insurers are pulling out and that’s not a status quo we can live with,” Ryan said.
House conservatives have also said they have little energy for passing a government funding bill that contains any ObamaCare provisions.
“None of us voted in favor of ObamaCare, so supporting it, sustaining it’s not exactly a high objective,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a leadership ally.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said that he had been assured by House leaders that ObamaCare payments would not be attached to the next funding bill.
“The three things that we’ve been told are not going to happen as part of our agreement: no CSRs, no DACA, no debt limit,” Walker said, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offered protections for immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. Trump ended the program with a six-month delay in September.
When asked about any assurances made to Walker, Ryan’s office declined to comment on member discussions.
Separately, Walker said any effort to add ObamaCare provisions to the spending bill would cost Republicans more votes from the GOP than they would gain with Democratic lawmakers.
If the Senate includes ObamaCare payments in the funding package, it could force a showdown with House Republicans, who would be under pressure to pass the Senate’s bill or risk a shutdown.
For now, Democrats are trying to maximize their leverage and are content to let Republicans fight among themselves.
Republicans need at least eight Democrats to break a filibuster in the Senate for any spending bill, and often rely on Democrats to make up for GOP defections in the House.
Alexander, who has long pushed for his bill to be included in a year-end spending bill, dismissed the idea that Republican senators need to pressure their House colleagues.
“The president’s for it, Sen. McConnell’s for it, most Republicans in the House have voted for both two years of cost sharing” and reinsurance in the past, Alexander said. “I feel pretty good about it.”