Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) deal to stave off the collapse of Obamacare is meeting with a less than ecstatic response. As the bipartisan framework meets opposition, Alexander pointed to President Trump as the force behind the tentative agreement.
After a phone call with the president, Sen. Alexander claimed that the deal was Trump’s idea in the first place. “Trump completely engineered the plan that we announced yesterday,” Alexander told Mike Allen of Axios. Alexander said that Trump repeatedly called to push him toward a deal that included Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “He wanted a bipartisan bill for the short term,” Alexander said.
A few minutes after Alexander’s appearance with Allen, President Trump appeared to throw then senator under the bus. Trump 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.”
Meanwhile, there are signs that the deal may be a tough sell for Republicans. A spokesman for Speaker Paul Ryan said, “The speaker does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare.”
Business Insider reported that Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had announced that he would oppose the Obamacare deal. Hatch, who penned an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Obamacare doesn’t deserve a bailout,” told reporters, “It would last two years and spend a whopping amount of money and not solve the problem.” John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate’s third highest ranking Republican, said that the bill had “stalled out.”
The effort did pick up several cosponsors as Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) signed on to the bill. There were reports that more cosponsors from both parties would announce their support soon.
The bill could pass with combined support of Republicans and Democrats, even if a large number of conservatives withhold their support. Small Republican majorities in both houses make it difficult to pass a unilateral bill. Republicans alone do not have the numbers to win a cloture vote in the Senate and the loss of only three senators is enough to scuttle a budget resolution that requires only a simple majority to pass. However, a bipartisan coalition could conceivably muster enough support to win a vote as well as end a filibuster by holdouts.
At this point, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not indicated his position on the deal. As leader of the Senate, McConnell could doom the bill by preventing the Senate from bringing it to a vote.
If the bill dies, the Trump Administration has announced that it will suspend Obamacare subsidy payments to insurance companies in accordance with a federal court decision earlier this year. The effect that this would have upon insurance markets is uncertain, but insurance company stocks tumbled after the president announced the decision.
Sen. Alexander said that Republicans may reintroduce the Graham-Cassidy bill if the Alexander-Murray deal fails. Graham-Cassidy was withdrawn last month after four Republican senators announced that they would vote against it.