A top House Republican said there is “no energy” to take up two Obamacare stabilization bills and that leadership has not discussed the legislation with him.
Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, chairman of the 170-member Republican Study Committee, would not speculate on whether he would support the two bills if President Trump throws his weight behind them. Senate Republicans who are pushing the two bills believe that the president will help ensure their success in the House, despite public opposition by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has said she received an “ironclad commitment” from Trump and GOP Senate leadership that two stabilization bills would become law by the end of the year.
The commitment, which did not include House leaders, helped win Collins' support for the Senate's tax reform legislation, which would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate that everyone buy insurance. Collins has said the bills are necessary to mitigate the effects of losing the mandate penalties, such as more expensive insurance premiums.
But conservative House Republicans have balked at the bills. Walker said there is “no discussion on that over here, none, not with leadership or the Republican Study Committee.”
Ryan has said he opposes the stabilization bill sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash. The bill restores payments to Obamacare insurers for two years to reimburse them for a requirement to lower out-of-pocket costs for poor Obamacare customers. Trump cut off those payments, which he called “bailouts,” to Obamacare insurers on Oct. 18. Most Obamacare insurers raised premiums for 2018 in response.
In exchange for making the payments, the bill would give more latitude for states to waive Obamacare insurer regulations.
Another bill sponsored by Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would give states $10 billion over two years to set up a reinsurance program to help cover the highest medical claims from Obamacare insurers. The insurers would then lower premiums overall.
Collins and other Republicans supporting the bills point to Trump as the linchpin for House approval.
“I think we need the president’s support for that to happen,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., a co-sponsor of Alexander-Murray. “I think once the president goes to the House and lets them know his support for those bills, then I think we will be able to move forward with it. Without the president’s support, you can understand the House not willing to step into the fray.”
Walker declined to speculate if he would support the two bills if Trump throws in his support.
“I am not even going to speculate, because until President Trump asked us to consider that, we would not go on record to say we would even consider it,” he said.
Walker added he couldn’t imagine a deal to ensure approval of the two bills “without House involvement.”
Rep. David Brat, R-Va., said he would be “shocked” if Trump supported Alexander-Murray.
“I doubt he is going to go out on a limb and defend that bailout,” he said.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said he is willing to support the payments if there is a transition to a repeal-and-replace bill, but said that is not what is happening with the two bills. He is also worried the payments would remain after two years.
“By definition it is probably eternal,” he said. “Historically speaking, you put something in on a two-year deal, it comes back in two years and stays in place.”
Meadows added that he could be in favor of Alexander-Murray if it is linked to a deal to raise defense spending without having to also raise discretionary nondefense spending.
However, Murray quickly shot down that approach.
She said in a statement the deal she brokered with Alexander was not meant to be "part of a Republican push to cut investments in education, infrastructure, medical research and other middle-class priorities."
Rounds said Alexander-Murray is a stopgap that helps pave the way for repeal and replace of Obamacare that will come in separate legislation. He said that it helps to transition to a new system and Republicans will revisit repealing Obamacare early in the new year.
“If you want to repeal and replace you have to have a transition out,” he said.