Congress at crossroads after another GOP health care failure

Posted: Updated:

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Congress is at a crossroads after Republicans' stinging failure to repeal Barack Obama's health care law. But what's next - more partisan conflict or a pragmatic shift toward cooperation?

Unless Republicans and Democrats in Congress can work together, and bring along an often unpredictable President Donald Trump, political conflict over health care may spread. Bipartisan talks on legislation to stabilize shaky insurance markets are on again, but time is short and there's no guarantee of success.

RELATED: 'Obamacare' survives; GOP concedes on last-gasp repeal try

Congress also has yet to renew funding for programs that traditionally enjoy broad support, such as children's health insurance and community health centers, despite approaching deadlines.

Feelings were raw Tuesday after Senate GOP leaders announced they would not take their latest "repeal and replace" bill to the floor for lack of support. Some lawmakers said it's still possible to bridge the partisan gap on a limited set of priority issues.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he would resume efforts to reach a bipartisan deal with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to stabilize markets for individual insurance policies that 18 million people rely on. More than half of those consumers are covered under the health law.

Alexander is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; Murray is the top Democrat on the committee. Alexander runs the risk of being accused by some fellow Republicans of trying to "bail out Obamacare."

Murray is under pressure from fellow Democrats not to make concessions to Alexander, who is seeking changes that would make it easier for states to get waivers from some of the law's requirements, potentially leading to plans with lower premiums.

"I'm still concerned about the next two years, and Congress has an opportunity to slow down premium increases in 2018, begin to lower them in 2019, and do our best to make sure there are no counties where people have zero options to buy health insurance," Alexander said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has worked with Republicans on a range of health care issues, said cooperation is the only way to avoid creating needless problems for constituents.

"You recognize the opportunities that are in front of you," said Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees health care funding. "My hope is we can come together."

Wyden's list includes renewing the Children's Health Insurance Program for 9 million kids, whose funding expires this week, as well as short-term action to stabilize the Affordable Care Act's insurance markets, by guaranteeing subsidies for copayments and deductibles. Experts say that could cut expected double-digit premium increases in many states by about half.

The missing ingredient seems to be leadership, say outside observers.

Neither Trump, nor House Speaker Paul Ryan nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch Connell has given clear approval for a bipartisan approach. Some governors have called for a health care reset that would involve both parties working together on a limited agenda, but their suggestion hasn't been embraced in Washington.

"The question is whether you can you forge a coalition that doesn't include either the hard right or the hard left," said GOP health economist Gail Wilensky. "I have not been able to answer who would provide the leadership for such an effort. Neither the leadership in the House or the Senate has embraced the notion of trying to forge a bipartisan coalition, and it is very hard to move legislation without that."

Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Trump at a meeting with lawmakers raised the possibility of seeking a deal with Democrats. There's no hint what that might entail.

If anything, Democrats have been moving to the left after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., relaunched his "Medicare for all" plan recently. Under Sanders' plan, government would pay for medical services, replacing employers and insurers. Some liberal activists argue that support for "single-payer" should be a qualifying test for Democratic candidates in 2018 and beyond.

Other Democrats say single-payer would lead to political defeat, because of the massive tax increases required.

"It's not going to happen," said former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., one of the main authors of the Obama law. "You can talk about it, and plant a flag, and say that's where you'd like to go, but in the meantime people need their insurance coverage."

Wednesday is the deadline for insurers to sign contracts to offer policies for 2018 on the health law's markets. Sign-up season starts Nov. 1. About half the 18 million Americans with individual policies get no subsidies under the health law. Without congressional action some are facing premiums that rival a mortgage payment.

Saturday is the deadline for Congress to act on children's health insurance and community health center funding. Brief delays are not expected to cause disruptions, but a protracted holdup would.

___

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • PoliticsMore>>

  • Judge in Hawaii blocks latest version of Trump's travel ban

    Judge in Hawaii blocks latest version of Trump's travel ban

    Tuesday, October 17 2017 5:41 PM EDT2017-10-17 21:41:29 GMT
    A Hawaii judge has blocked President Donald Trump's latest travel ban.A Hawaii judge has blocked President Donald Trump's latest travel ban.

    A federal judge in Hawaii blocked the Trump administration Tuesday from enforcing its latest travel ban, just hours before it was set to take effect.

    A federal judge in Hawaii blocked the Trump administration Tuesday from enforcing its latest travel ban, just hours before it was set to take effect.

  • Judge refuses to throw out case against Sen. Menendez

    Judge refuses to throw out case against Sen. Menendez

    Monday, October 16 2017 5:02 PM EDT2017-10-16 21:02:30 GMT
    (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2017, file photo, Sen. Bob Menendez arrives to court for his federal corruption trial in Newark, N.J.(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2017, file photo, Sen. Bob Menendez arrives to court for his federal corruption trial in Newark, N.J.

    The judge at Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial refused to throw out any of the charges against the New Jersey Democrat on Monday.

    The judge at Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial refused to throw out any of the charges against the New Jersey Democrat on Monday.

  • Former President Obama to campaign for Murphy in NJ

    Former President Obama to campaign for Murphy in NJ

    Monday, October 16 2017 1:11 PM EDT2017-10-16 17:11:47 GMT

    Former President Barack Obama will join Democratic governor candidate Phil Murphy Thursday afternoon at an invite-only rally in Newark.

    Former President Barack Obama will join Democratic governor candidate Phil Murphy Thursday afternoon at an invite-only rally in Newark.

sorry to interrupt
your first 5 are free
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please enjoy 5 complimentary views of articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.
you have reached your 5 view limit
Access to News 12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service ElectricSM customers.
Please login, create an account or subscribe to continue enjoying News12.
Our sign-up page is undergoing maintenance and is not currently available. However, you will be given direct access to news12.com while we complete our upgrade.
When we are back up and running you will be prompted at that time to complete your sign in. Until then, enjoy the local news, weather, traffic and more that's "as local as local news gets."