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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Senators left a Tuesday lunch meeting with President Donald Trump just as confused  about his position on stabilizing the individual health insurance market as when they went in.

“We really didn’t get into details on that,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told reporters, noting that the meeting was cordial and “nobody called anyone an ignorant slut.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) confirmed that Trump “did not give any indication of his position.”

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As a popular bipartisan bill to stabilize Obamacare’s individual insurance market stalls in the Senate, far-right members of the House told reporters Tuesday that it would be dead on arrival if it ever made it to the lower chamber. Asked if they would consider supporting a far more conservative version of the bill, which halts enforcement of the individual and employer mandates, the lawmakers remained opposed, voicing hostility to any legislation that funds or stabilizes the Affordable Care Act.

“I see it playing out by not playing out,” Scott Perry (R-PA) quipped when asked about the prospects in the House of reinstating the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies that President Trump cut off earlier this month.

“Right now it’s a non-starter,” added Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA). “The Senate, first of all, failed to do any semblance of repeal. Then they failed to do a skinny bill. And now they want to do a bipartisan Democrat bill which doesn’t reform Obamacare in any appreciable way.”

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The bipartisan bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market, restore subsidies to insurers to cover low-income patients, restore funding for enrollment outreach, and give states more regulatory flexibility would pass the Senate with a filibuster-proof supermajority—if GOP leadership allows a vote.

But while at least 60 senators are lined up ready to cast their votes in favor of the bill, which was hammered out over months of delicate bipartisan negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is refusing to allow a vote until President Trump gives the bill his blessing.

In this face of this blockade, the Senate’s Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to floor Monday afternoon to plead with the President.

“Let me make a direct appeal,” he said. “Mr. President, come out and support the Alexander-Murray bill. You’ve called it ‘a very good solution’ already. Announce you’ll support it, and it will pass through the Senate soon after.”

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On Monday, 19 states are expected to tell a federal court that the Trump administration decision to cut off billions in subsidies to health insurance companies is “illegal and arbitrary”—violating both the text of the Affordable Care Act and the Constitution’s “take care” clause—and that it threatens the health coverage of millions of Americans.

The states, in a case spearheaded by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (pictured above), seek a temporary restraining order blocking the President’s decision and forcing the administration to make the October payment to insurers while the case goes forward. As efforts in Congress to appropriate the payments are stalling in the face of opposition from House Republicans and the White House, the lawsuit may be the only hope for restoring the funding this year.

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The lawsuit from nearly 20 states over the Trump administration’s recent decision to cut off subsidies to health insurance companies—a move roiling the individual market and raising premiums across the country—goes before a judge on Monday.

On Friday, the Trump administration submitted a response to the states’ attempt to force the payments, arguing that only Congress can constitutionally authorize those payments. The argument carries echoes of an earlier, still-pending lawsuit by House Republicans that sought to declare the Obama administration’s expenditures on the subsidies an illegal usurpation of Congress’ power of the purse – except now the roles are somewhat reversed.

“No matter how compelling the rationale, neither the Executive nor the Judiciary has the authority to expend taxpayer dollars, including billions of dollars in annual cost-sharing reduction payments under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), if Congress has not appropriated those funds,” the Justice Department said, asking the court to reject the states’ request for a temporary for a temporary restraining order that would force the administration to pay out the funds. “Congress may reverse course and appropriate funds, but the Executive cannot make that decision for Congress by expending funds where no appropriation for CSR payments exists.”

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A new Gallup survey released Friday shows a marked uptick in the number of Americans without health insurance since the Trump administration took office—a reversal after years of decline and a historic record low under the Obama administration.

Since the end of 2016, the survey found, the uninsured rate has climbed 1.4 percentage points, from 10.9 percent to 12.3 percent, with roughly 3.5 million more Americans uninsured. The current uninsured rate is the highest since the end of 2014.

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On Thursday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced that every single Senate Democrat would back a bipartisan bill to restore the subsidy payments to health insurance companies defunded by President Trump. Combined with the 12 GOP senators who officially co-sponsored the bill, that gives the measure a filibuster-proof supermajority if and when it comes to the floor for a vote.

But with a powerful committee chairman and several other lawmakers in staunch opposition, hostility to the bill radiating from the House of Representatives, right-wing advocacy groups mobilizing against it, and a President who appears to hourly change his mind on the policy, there is no guarantee the bill will pass.

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Since President Trump moved last week to cut off cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurance companies, Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have been furiously whipping votes on their respective sides of the aisle on a bipartisan bill to restore that funding and stabilize Obamacare’s vulnerable individual market.

On Thursday, they took to the Senate floor to announce that they have secured 24 co-sponsors: 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans. If all Democrats back the proposal, which they are expected to do, this gives the bill a filibuster-proof supermajority.

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By Wednesday afternoon, after President Donald Trump had cycled through multiple positions on a deal to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s individual market—from qualified support to outright rejection and back again—the usually reserved Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) had had it.

“The President has had six positions on our bill,” she said curtly as she power-walked through the Senate basement so fast reporters had to jog to keep up. “What I am focused on is putting forward a proposal that lowers costs for consumers and brings some stability to the market.”

Asked if the deal is still alive despite the President’s apparent opposition, Murray snapped: “Yes, of course it is.”

Her colleagues on both sides of the aisle are not so sure.

With mixed messages from the White House, staunch opposition from House Republicans, and lingering confusion and mistrust after months of failed Obamacare repeal attempts, the ability of Congress to pass a true bipartisan health care bill is in question. While many senators in both parties warn that inaction will trigger large insurance premium hikes and market chaos, others questions the basic premise of the stabilization bill, calling its benefit an “allegation.”

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Senators who have haggled for months over a deal to stabilize Obamacare’s individual market released the draft text of their bill late Tuesday night, and have since been attempting to sell the plan to their wary colleagues.

The proposal would fund cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers for two years, allow more people to buy skimpy “copper” health plans, make it easier for states to waive some insurance regulations, and undo the Trump administration’s deep cuts to the budget for urging people to sign up for Obamacare.

In separate memos obtained by TPM, Democrats and Republicans are making very different arguments in support of the deal, touting their victories in the negotiation and playing down the concessions they made to the other side.

As senators, armed with these talking points, start whipping votes, hostility to the deal from right-wing groups and House Republicans and near-constant position-shifting by President Trump could ultimately doom the effort.

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