On Wednesday morning, another leading Republican senator suffered an injury that has struck lawmakers throughout the Capitol in the last nine months: presidential policy whiplash.
President Trump can’t seem to decide whether he wants Congress to pass a bipartisan deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday afternoon, the president praised and appeared to endorse an agreement that aimed to stabilize the law’s faltering exchanges by restoring crucial insurer payments that Trump had cancelled last week. Hours later, however, Trump was telling a conservative crowd that he opposed “providing bailouts to insurance companies.” And by Wednesday morning, the president had formalized his criticism in a tweet.
I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017
“Lamar” is Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the Republican health committee chairman who negotiated the bipartisan accord with Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, the panel’s top Democrat. In the you’ve-got-to-give-something-to-get-something style of congressional dealmaking, the Alexander-Murray legislation would restore what are known as “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurance companies for two years—a Democratic demand—while also making it easier for states to opt out of some of Obamacare’s regulations, which Republicans insisted on. The goal of the bill is to shore up the law in the short term and head off premium increases resulting from Trump’s refusal to reimburse insurers for subsidies they are required to pay out to lower-income consumers.
Unveiling the compromise on Tuesday, Alexander made sure to emphasize that Trump had encouraged his dealmaking, and the president himself had boasted—inaccurately—that his decision to cancel the insurer payments last week had brought both parties to the negotiating table. The president had called Alexander twice in the last two weeks, the senator said, and told him “he doesn’t want people to be hurt in the interim.” Trump said as much in public on Tuesday. “It will get us over the immediate hump,” he told reporters. “It is a short-term solution so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period.”