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Trump Noncommittal on Bipartisan Senate Deal to Save Obamacare Subsidies

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) talk during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Oct. 17, 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON — The GOP chairman and Democratic ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee arrived at an agreement to save the Obamacare subsidies axed last week by President Trump, but it wasn’t clear if he would be on board with the bipartisan plan.

The White House announced late Thursday night that the Department of Health and Human Services concluded “there is no appropriation” for the subsidies, and “in light of this analysis, the government cannot lawfully make the cost-sharing reduction payments.”

Trump the move as cutting off “a subsidy for insurance companies.” Democrats slammed the move as a cruel swipe at lower-income Americans and cited Congressional Budget Office estimates that cutting off the payments will cause premiums to shoot up 20 to 25 percent.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who had already been working together behind the scenes on an agreement to fix Obamacare, unveiled their deal to save the CSR payments through 2019 and open up states’ options for insurance plans within the minimum coverage guidelines.

“Without these cost-sharing reduction payments, premiums will rise, the debt will increase by nearly $194 billion over ten years, and up to 16 million Americans may find themselves living in counties where no company sells insurance in the individual market,” Alexander said on the Senate floor.

“Only about six percent of Americans get their insurance in the individual market. It’s about 18 million people, but every single one of them finds their health insurance important, and every single one of them is terrified by the skyrocketing premiums and possibility that they may not able to buy insurance at all if we don’t act. The best course is to take this limited bipartisan first step that to avoid the chaos that could occur during 2018 and 2019 if premiums continue to skyrocket and millions of Americans find themselves without a way to purchase health insurance,” the chairman added.

“Imagine yourself, a 45-year-old songwriter in Tennessee who loses her job, has three kids, and goes out into the individual market and finds out she can’t buy health insurance because no company is offering it. If we do not act, this is the kind of consequence we are talking about.”

Murray said the agreement could “set the healthcare discussion in Congress on a very different path than the one we’ve seen for the last seven years.”

“This agreement provides certainty on out-of-pocket reduction payments for the next two years. It will address attempts by this administration to keep people from getting enrolled in care they need,” she said. “And it takes a number of strong, bipartisan steps to offer states more flexibility to innovate in the way the Affordable Care Act intended — without undermining essential health benefits like maternity care or mental health coverage, or burdening people with pre-existing conditions.”

In a speech Tuesday evening at the Heritage Foundation, Trump said he commended the bipartisan work done by Alexander and Murray but continues “to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”

This morning the president tweeted: “I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.”

And at a White House meeting today with members of the Senate Finance Committee, Trump acknowledged that Alexander “is working on it very hard from our side.”

“And if something can happen, that’s fine,” Trump said. “But I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies because right now the insurance companies are being enriched. They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody has ever seen before. I am not going to do anything to enrich the insurance companies.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in floor remarks today that he was “vehemently upset, strongly upset” with Trump’s response to the deal.

“First, frankly, the president doesn’t know what he’s talking about in the compromise. It doesn’t bail out insurance companies, it helps people who need healthcare. It keeps their premiums down. It allows them to go to a doctor or to get a medicine that they need. Senators Alexander and Murray made sure in the provisions they were writing that the money would not go to insurance companies, but rather, would go to millions of Americans who need help, because they couldn’t afford healthcare on their own,” Schumer said. “Second, this president keeps zigging and zagging, so it’s impossible to govern.”

Schumer said that two weeks ago Trump called him while he was in the gym and said, “Let’s work on a bipartisan solution on healthcare.”

“It was his initiation. He first talked about ‘let’s repeal and replace.’ I said that’s off the table,” the Dem leader said. “But I then said that Senator Alexander and Senator Murray are working on a compromise, and I outlined the basic compromise that they were coming up with, that each side got something. And the president suggested that he call Senator Alexander, and I call Senator Murray and encourage them. I called Senator Murray, he called Senator Alexander. And he called Senator Alexander, from what Senator Alexander told me, several times to encourage him. And yesterday, he called the Murray-Alexander deal a ‘very good solution.’ Now, this morning, he said he can’t support it.”

“…If every time the hard right says ‘jump’ and the president says ‘how high?’ his presidency will be a failure, yet that’s what has happened repeatedly here, repeatedly.”