After Senate Republicans officially gave up on the Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal bill Tuesday afternoon, some Republican senators and members of leadership suddenly warmed to reopening bipartisan talks on a bill to stabilize the Affordable Care Act markets.
The talks led by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN, pictured above) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, were abruptly abandoned a week ago when Republican leaders decided to push the Graham-Cassidy bill through the Senate. Now that another week’s worth of desperate attempts to whip votes for an Obamacare repeal bill have failed, some Republicans pointed to Alexander as the next step on health care.
Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, told reporters that Alexander and Murray should continue their stabilization work.
“There are going to be some things that in the near-term may have to be done to stabilize markets, and that kind of thing can be done in a bipartisan way,” Thune said.
He noted that Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) would continue to work on gaining support for their bill, but could not offer an exact timeline.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) also encouraged Alexander to continue with bipartisan talks, but seemed pessimistic about the outcome.
“Sen. Alexander’s going to continue with his meetings with Sen. Murray, so they are going to continue on the bipartisan discussions,” he told reporters.
“I want much more flexibility to the states than any Democrat has ever been willing to offer,” Barrasso said when asked if he supports those talks. “And if we can’t get the flexibility to the states, so that people can buy in their own home state what works for them personally, then I’m not supportive of a direct continuation of those payments.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), one of the co-sponsors of the Graham-Cassidy bill, said that the failure of the repeal bill would “give Democrats an opportunity to really step up to the plate” to work with Republicans on bipartisan legislation.
Two of the three senators who publicly opposed the bill, Susan Collins (R-ME) and John McCain (R-AZ), also called for bipartisan talks to resume.
“I very much want us to resume the work that the Health committee was doing under the leadership of Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray. I believe that that offers great promise for stabilizing insurance markets and helping to lower premiums,” Collins told reporters before Republican leaders announced they wouldn’t move forward with the Graham-Cassidy bill.
Alexander said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that he will work with Murray and Republicans on a bipartisan stabilization bill
“I will consult with Senator Murray and with other senators, both Republicans and Democrats, to see if senators can find consensus on a limited bipartisan plan that could be enacted into law to help lower premiums and make insurance available to the 18 million Americans in the individual market in 2018 and 2019,” the senator said in a statement.
But despite those lawmakers’ willingness to see Alexander and Murray work toward agreement, bipartisan talks will face some resistance in the Senate Republican caucus.
Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) told reporters Tuesday that bipartisan talks in the HELP Committee are a “sham” and predicted that the panel would not be able to come to any agreement.
“Talk to a Democrat and tell me where there’s any bipartisan agreement right now coming out of that committee,” he said.