He previously served as the No. 3 Republican in the caucus as the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference but said leading the HELP committee is “the job in the Senate that I’d have the most interest in doing.”
“No committee has a larger jurisdiction than it does,” he said. “The things we work on affect virtually every American.”
But the diversity of the committee’s jurisdiction presents its chairman with the task of navigating a combination of bitterly partisan issues and those on which agreement can be found. Alexander’s focus has been largely on the latter.
“He recognizes nothing’s going to pass the Senate without Democratic votes, so he’s been moving every priority issue through the committee with Senator Murray largely in the loop,” Sen. Chris Murphy told National Journal in a phone interview.
“The HELP committee has a handful of hyper-partisan issues like health care and then a handful of issues that can bring Democrats and Republicans together, like higher education and FDA reform,” Murphy added. “The HELP committee has a smorgasbord of issues that allows you to be partisan or bipartisan … as a chairman.”
When it comes to health care, while medical innovation is a safe topic to approach, the Affordable Care Act continues to be a subject Alexander avoids as much as he can to keep the committee’s trajectory bipartisan.
But a reconciliation bill repealing major pieces of Obamacare is on its way through the House and will likely eventually cross over to the Senate, potentially appearing in the two committees with jurisdiction over the law: HELP and Finance. The goal for Republicans will be to send a repeal bill to the president’s desk with only a simple majority vote in the upper chamber.
Meanwhile, Republicans running for president are still running on a health care platform of repeal-and-replace, and congressional Republicans, including Alexander, are already beginning to prepare for a different president in 2017.
“We’ll be working over the next year so that in the next Congress we’ll be ready to hopefully replace provisions of the Affordable Care Act with something that gives Americans more choices and lower costs,” Alexander said, acknowledging that consensus is almost impossible when it comes to the health care law despite his committee’s bipartisan successes: “If the Affordable Care Act comes up, you still have the same partisan divisions.”
But somehow the committee manages to work around that, choosing—some would say contrary to much of the rest of Congress—to work on things that can get done rather than on political-messaging tactics.
Alexander, both by taking the lead on some issues and stepping aside to give other members room to champion others, keeps his eyes on results.
“It’s hard to get elected to the Senate. It’s hard to stay here, and as long as you’re here, you might as well amount to something,” he said. “And if you’re on our committee, you’re going to have a chance to do that if you want to work.”