“Overall we are very pleased with this agreement,” Schumer told reporters. After a lunchtime briefing from Murray, Schumer said there was broad support among Democrats for the deal. But more importantly, it appeared to win an endorsement from Trump just days after he scrapped the very payments—which he derided as an insurer bailout—the senators are trying to restore. “It will get us over the immediate hump,” the president said when asked about the agreement at a White House press conference. “It is a short-term solution so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period,” he added, while insisting that Republicans would continue trying to replace the law entirely.
Alexander and Murray have been negotiating for more than a month, since the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare initially failed over the summer. But their talks took on new urgency after Trump announced last week that he was axing the payments known as “cost-sharing reductions,” which reimburse insurance companies for subsidies that the federal government provides to lower-income Americans who buy coverage on the ACA exchanges. Those payments have been the subject of litigation from House Republicans over whether Congress explicitly signed off on them when it passed the health law. Trump cited the lawsuit in withholding them, but his administration had been making the payments anyway for months, and the timing of his decision to cut them off was widely seen as an attempt to unravel Obamacare just weeks before next year’s enrollment period is set to begin.
The president’s move prompted immediate spikes in premiums in certain states, and it raised the possibility that more insurers would leave the market altogether. Democrats were outraged, and many Republicans were annoyed over the possibility that they would draw the blame from constituents who’d see their health-care bills go up and their choices go down. “After he did what he did, the negotiations got better for us,” Schumer claimed. A document sent to Republican offices summarizing the agreement on Tuesday warned of “chaos” in the insurance markets if it was not enacted and that the fallout would create a “four-lane highway to single-payer” favored by liberals.
While Trump’s endorsement could be crucial, the fate of the Alexander-Murray deal is uncertain. It will need to win the support of Republican leaders in both the House and Senate, none of whom were willing to give it yet. “We haven’t had a chance to think about the way forward yet,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the Republicans met on Tuesday. Before the Senate failed in its last repeal attempt in September, Speaker Paul Ryan had warned that the House would not consider an attempt to shore up the ACA. His office wasn’t commenting on Tuesday.
It’s also unclear just how firmly Trump will back the agreement once all of its details are known. In recent days, the president has veered from declaring Obamacare dead and boasting about his role in killing it to taking credit for spurring an outbreak of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill. As recently as Friday, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, was pooh-poohing the framework that Alexander and Murray were working on.