Some House Republicans are objecting to adding Obamacare insurer payments to a must-pass spending bill, threatening to blow up a precarious effort to fund the government before it runs out of money in a few days.
During the House GOP conference on Tuesday, numerous members bashed the idea of taking up the payments many Republicans have long labeled as "bailouts." But the Senate GOP leadership is expected to include the funding for two years in a spending deal.
“There was more speaking out against that than any other topic we talked about,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. “Guys were just struggling with it.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, added that inserting the payments "would be a problem."
The payments reimburse insurers for a requirement to lower co-pays and deductibles for low-income Obamacare customers. Making the payments would save the federal government $3.8 billion over the next decade in the form of lower income-based tax credits to pay down the cost of health insurance.
President Trump stopped the payments Oct. 18, and since then, most insurers on Obamacare’s exchanges have increased prices by double digits to recoup the loss.
However, Republicans are finding it difficult to drop the “bailout” label.
“These insurance companies don’t need bailing out,” said Walker, the leader of the 170-member conservative Republican Study Committee. “I don’t see where this has any place to land or go against over here.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, vice chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said after the Tuesday closed-door meeting that the payments were a problem.
Passage in the House has always been a stumbling block for the Obamacare payment legislation, which was written by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., in October.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not bring up the bill then because of objections from President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, even though it has support from 60 senators, which is enough to break a filibuster.
However, McConnell's and Trump's opinion changed when they needed the vote of Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to pass tax reform legislation, which included repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate that everyone buy insurance. McConnell and Trump agreed to support Alexander-Murray and a separate bill from Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to pay states $10 billion over two years to prop up Obamacare insurers.
But Ryan never agreed to take up the bills.
So, the Senate is looking to force the issue this week with the must-pass spending that is expected to fund the government into January. The government runs out of funding Dec. 22.
The House is expected to pass its own short-term spending bill that does not include the two bills. The Senate would add the bills to the spending legislation when it reaches the chamber and then send it back to the House.
But it is not clear if enough House Republicans are willing to swallow a spending bill that includes the Obamacare legislation.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said it is possible that the Obamacare bills get stripped out of the Senate spending bill, but the issue isn't going away.
“I suppose it's always possible that in the give-and-take of the legislative process that that gets attached to something else, but I think that some point it's going to get voted on here, and then the House will have to decide what they want to do with it,” said Thune, the third-ranking GOP senator.
He added that the two bills are needed to stabilize the marketplace before a new repeal and replace bill is passed that would kill the rest of Obamacare.
Not all House Republicans are opposed to the payments.
“I have proposed funding them for three years. I support it,” said Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J.
He added that it would be good to pass the bills in light of the House passage of tax reform, which includes repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate that everyone buy insurance.
“We are not gonna make you buy it, we are not tax you for buying it and if you having trouble affording it we can help you buy it,” he said.
Another concern for conservatives is how the insurer payments would handle abortion.
Anti-abortion groups are fuming that the insurer payments don’t have protections under the Hyde Amendment, a spending rider that prevents federal funding from being used for abortions.
Walker said those objections are another problem Republicans have with the bill.
Thune said that he also has concerns about the Hyde Amendment. “I would like to see them included,” he said.
• Senior Healthcare Writer Kimberly Leonard contributed to this report.