Alexander’s bipartisan Obamacare fix fails

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington have given up on their push for a bipartisan bill to continue federal subsidies for health insurance under Obamacare as a short-term fix for individual health insurance market.

Alexander’s official public statement:

“Senator Murray and I had hoped to agree early this week on a limited, bipartisan plan to stabilize 2018 premiums in the individual health insurance market that we could take to Senate leaders by the end of the month. During the last month, we have worked hard and in good faith, but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders’ hands that could be enacted.”

Murray, says the New York Times, was more blunt: “Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach and are trying to jam through a partisan Trumpcare bill.”

Further, Politico reports that House Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House have informed Senate Republican leaders that they oppose the Alexander-Murray plan – “in a clear bid to boost the Senate’s prospects of repealing the health law” with other pending legislation.

After Senate Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare in July, talks began on fixing the law rather than dismantling it. The dose of cold water from senior GOP officials will put pressure on Republican senators to back a last-ditch bill to gut Obamacare before a Sept. 30 deadline. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell backed that approach publicly on Tuesday.

Republicans say that while the bipartisan talks between Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) initially seemed promising, many in the GOP fear providing money for Obamacare but offering little for conservatives — especially after Republican lawmakers have been throttled by President Donald Trump and the GOP base for failing to repeal the health law.

Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that the Trump administration is all-in on the latest repeal effort, flying to Washington with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to deliver a message to the Senate GOP on repeal: “This is the moment. Now is the time,” according to a pool report. Ryan and Trump called them during the plane ride as well.

rump has threatened to withhold billions in Obamacare subsidies, which would upend private insurance markets. Alexander and Murray were working on legislation to have Congress provide those subsidies while allowing states more flexibility, but those talks fell apart after this story was published.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee insurance commissioner Julie Mix McPeak had traveled to Washington earlier to testify in support of Alexander’s effort.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG
Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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