Lawmakers scramble to save ‘virtually dead’ ObamaCare

President Trump said on Tuesday that ObamaCare “is a disgrace to our nation and we are solving the problem of ObamaCare.”

When asked later at the White House about the 2010 health care law, the president declared, “It’s virtually dead.”

Then Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, announced a bipartisan pact to salvage ObamaCare.

“I have had encouraging discussions with President Trump, who called me on two different occasions encouraging me to work with Senator Murray to come to a bipartisan agreement,” Alexander said. “I’m grateful to him for that encouragement and I’m grateful to her.”

Huh?

The president announced a few days ago he was singlehandedly terminating cost-sharing reductions in ObamaCare. The so-called CSR’s are subsidies that former President Barack Obama put into his signature law to ease the cost of expensive health care premiums.

Trump decided to torpedo the assistance in an effort to kill ObamaCare. Yet the president’s gambit may very well preserve the touchstone law Republicans have long fought to extinguish.

Congressional Republicans are deadlocked when it comes to a legislative contrivance to repeal and replace ObamaCare. An effort to maintain the CSR’s could only strengthen the law’s staying power.

Still, the Alexander-Murray package, which would fund the subsidies for two years, creates dilemmas for both sides, which could be its undoing.

For Republicans, the compromise represents a tacit endorsement of ObamaCare. The cost-sharing subsidy is essential to safeguard the current system with minimal disruption.

Moreover, for fiscal conservatives, the problem with the Alexander-Murray plan is that is has no subsidy “offset,” which is essentially an equal cut in federal funding to another program or an equal increase in revenue, usually through a tax increase.

The crux of the senators’ deal artificially props up the nation’s health care markets with government aid. That flies in the face of traditional conservative, free-market principles. It’s possible some GOPers will balk at the arrangement because of these very concepts.

The accord also creates a quandary for Democrats.

Long ago, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, signaled they’d be happy to work with Republicans and Trump on health care if they abandoned the repeal-and-replace mantra.

Alexander-Murray certainly isn’t “repeal and replace.” But Trump suggested over the weekend the GOP could make another run at repeal and replace next year. Such a gambit would come via the second incarnation of the health care bill authored by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

“We know they are going to continue to try to repeal and replace,” Schumer conceded. “Will they try it again? Yes.”

So, Republicans haven’t forgone the repeal-and-replace quest. This begs the question why Democrats are willing to play on Alexander-Murray?

By the way, who blinked? 

Did Republicans blink?

Schumer argues that Trump’s decision to yank the CSR’s broke Republicans, prompting Alexander-Murray.

“After the president did what he did, the negotiations got better for us,” Schumer bragged.

Or did Democrats blink? Didn’t a lack of CSR’s compel Democrats to the table, alarmed that no aid could prompt an ObamaCare death spiral?

“I’m pleased the Democrats have finally responded to my call for them to take responsibility for their ObamaCare disaster and work with Republicans to provide much-needed relief to the American people,” Trump boasted Tuesday night.

Who blinked? It’s a matter of perspective.

It’s unclear when the House and Senate could move on Alexander-Murray or what form it will take. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, demurred when asked if he’d commit to putting the compromise on the floor.

“It’s a hot news item, just announced today. I’d recommend you talk to both of them,” he said.

Speed is of the essence as lawmakers don’t want to hesitate and inadvertently spark health care marketplace shocks without the CSR’s in place -- especially as insurance firms try to establish rates for next year.

“This agreement avoids chaos,” Alexander said. “I don’t know a Democrat or a Republican who benefits from chaos.”

“It is not a done deal that this arrangement reached by senators Alexander and Murray will ever make it into law,” warned a skeptical Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

The House’s view on the bill is unclear. The chamber’s GOP brass was noticeably mum on the issue.

The whole issue with the CSR’s (called Section 1402 subsidies) started several years ago when the Republican-led House went to court over the payments on “constitutional” grounds.

Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution states that “no Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law.”

Congress may have approved ObamacCare. But lawmakers never okayed an “appropriation” for the CSR’s. Obama simply ordered up the funding without congressional involvement. Federal District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled last year that the payments were unconstitutional sans congressional action.

The Alexander-Murray plan would provide congressionally blessed funding for the cost-sharing payments. Fox News is told the funding would likely be a “direct appropriation.”

In other words, an “entitlement” like Medicare and Medicaid. Congress calls this “mandatory spending.” The money would not need renewal each fiscal year. The funds would simply stream out the door.

“I want to undersell this proposal rather than oversell it,” Alexander said when discussing the plan on the Senate floor.

That may not be a bad approach for Republicans. For years, Republicans preached repeal and replace. Trump hoped to kill ObamaCare by stripping the CSR’s. That move could backfire on the president and actually prompt bipartisan lawmakers to save ObamaCare.

Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.