A pair of deal-making senators is inching toward a bipartisan agreement to fund Obamacare's insurance subsidies and provide some certainty to health insurance markets just two days after the GOP’s latest Obamacare repeal effort failed.
Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are moving toward a plan to stabilize Obamacare in the short term after meeting on Wednesday. Though they have not yet clinched a deal, their progress could ignite a new battle over how or whether to improve the law.
"Maybe by the end of next week, we will go and hand a piece of legislation to Sen. [Mitch] [Mitch] McConnell and Sen. [Chuck] Schumer,” Alexander said on Thursday.
The failure of the Graham-Cassidy bill — along with the prospect that the GOP would shoulder the political blame for the instability of the Obamacare insurance markets next year — has created an opening, albeit a small one, for moderates like Alexander to push an interim measure to prop up the markets.
Many GOP lawmakers say they’re now open to such talks. But some conservatives are skeptical of doing anything that could be construed as an embrace of the Democrats’ law. And the White House, which was skeptical of a bipartisan Obamacare bill while the idea of repeal was still live, hasn’t weighed in since that effort died.
“We’ve tried it the other way a couple of times,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. “So we need to try to see if we can come up with a bipartisan agreement. It’s obviously been very hard.”
Negotiations between Alexander and Murray were put on hold by Republican leaders two weeks ago in favor of pushing forward with the Senate’s fourth repeal effort. With that in shambles and Obamacare repeal essentially shelved for now, the pair has resumed talks on a bill to fund an Obamacare subsidy program and provide some measure of certainty to the insurance markets.