Oct 18, 2017, 4:28 PM ET

Senate Republican leaders scramble to get Trump on board with health care compromise

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President Donald Trump says he does not support a bipartisan agreement to stabilize insurance markets in its current form, leaving members of Congress questioning how exactly he wants to change the bill before he endorses it.

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On Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president did not support the bill in its current form, reiterating a tweet from the president this morning in which he said that the deal, which would subsidize insurance plans for low-income Americans for two full years, equates to a bailout for insurance companies.

“We’ve said all along that we want something that doesn't just bail out the insurance companies but actually provides relief for all Americans. This bill doesn't address that fact, so we want to make sure that that's taken care of,” Sanders said.

The bill was based on an agreement between Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, which they introduced Tuesday at their parties’ respective weekly policy luncheons. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short attended the Republicans’ lunch.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Alexander insisted that the president supported his and Murray’s efforts but wants to strengthen provisions to ensure that the payments, known as cost-sharing reductions or CSRs, end up helping consumers, not lining insurers’ coffers.

But at the same time, Alexander also insisted that the bill’s provisions already contain strong safeguards, so it was not clear what language Trump wants inserted into the bill to satisfy him.

“It has very strong language to [protect consumers],” Alexander told reporters. “The president, we’ve talked about that, and the president is in the process of reviewing it and we welcome his suggestions about how to improve it.”

Alexander’s remarks were the latest volley in a ping-pong game between the White House and congressional negotiators, in which Trump has at times sent mixed messages about whether or not he would support the bill.

Shortly before Alexander spoke Wednesday morning at an event with reporters about the health deal, he talked with Trump to thank him for his leadership on the deal, he said.

“I said ‘Mr. President, I’ve done exactly what you asked me to do when you called ten days ago and I’m going in to talk to this large group of reporters and tell them they’re underestimating your leadership on health care,’” Alexander said.

But at the event itself, Alexander did hedge Trump’s support, saying Trump wants to be “encouraging” of the efforts but still wants to review the language of the agreement.

A day earlier, Trump had struck a much more optimistic tone, just as Murray and Alexander were making their deal public.

“The solution will be for about a year or two years. And it'll get us over this intermediate hump,” he said, during a press conference in the Rose Garden, adding that Republicans have or "are very close to having" the votes to pass a comprehensive bill to overhaul the ACA — a long-held party goal.

Trump signed an executive order last week canceling the monthly cost-sharing reduction funds to insurers because, his administration argued, the funds were taken from the Health and Human Services budget and not specifically appropriated by Congress, making them illegal. The House Republican conference had previously sued the Obama administration making this same point as well, which the Obama administration appealed.

Republicans had justified the president’s sudden announcement, which experts warned would roil insurance markets, by saying he was simply pressuring Congress to act.

“His argument is he doesn’t have, legally, the authority to make the payments, but secondly I think he wanted to create a forcing action to get Congress to do something,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters Tuesday.

But by Wednesday morning, as Trump moved away from that position, senators seemed unsure of what his end game was.

“I think, uh, he's evolving,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters before walking away without further explanation.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona seemed willing to give the president time to figure out whether or not he liked the agreement, the text of which was released Wednesday.

“We're all still studying it ourselves,” he said.

On Tuesday Trump called a possible time without the subsidies as a "dangerous little period." Experts, including the Congressional Budget Office, projected that halting the government contributions would raise premiums, increase the federal deficit and destabilize the insurance marketplace.

The cost to continue the cost-sharing-reduction payments (CSRs), which are distributed in monthly installments, was estimated at $7 billion this year.

While Republicans scramble to determine whether or not they have the votes for the bill, Murray said she was open to making changes to the bill but not in order to get Trump on board.

“I’m not doing this for the president. I’m doing it for the people of the country and so is Lamar,” she said.

ABC News' Mariam Khan and Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.

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  • jdc

    I'm sure republican leaders and some democrats as well want this to work. Because the last thing they do want is a Medicare for all option to pass. They don't wan to upset their donor/owners they are beholden to after all they do for each other. Keeping the payola politicians in office is a grueling and expensive task to make sure they get those favorable votes in Congress so they can keep abusing the people when ever they want to make more money. It's sick and I'm tired of it.

  • Ogrot

    Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray have twelve Republican co-sponsors and twelve Democrats. All of the Democrats plus twelve Republicans is sixty votes for cloture. This is a bill that can be passed. Trump might have to put his pen where his mouth is. But if past history of barking with no bite is any indication he will let it become law.

  • jim

    trump polosi-feinstein-pence--they ALL have single payer health plans--but america's suckers chumps dupes & losers still get 2nd class citizen treatment & pony up $3 billion in profits & bonus checks tor their glorious corporate leaders !

  • Fred Mertz Pants

    Draw him up some pictures with crayons, add a couple of charts (they don't even need to mean anything), tell him how great he is, and chrump will buy-in - yugely!

  • Pete Wascher

    whatever happens, it's trumpcare now.

  • Rog

    NO DEAL that continues ACA payments or subsidies!

  • buelly10

    Awesome, just like DACA, he is forcing legislators to legislate! Brilliant man that Trump is!

  • srichey321

    True survivors...lol

  • OrangeTabby

    I though spending bills had to originate in the House.

  • PVI

    Amazing what the GOP will do when they're staring down total annihilation at the midterms- you know the DNC would weaponize any cutbacks to great effect when the elections roll around. Horrible as the move was, Trump did force congress to "do" something for once, though taking health care and medication away from those who cannot afford it seems rather antithetical to "Make America Great Again" in my mind.

  • CantStoptheSignalMal

    Just think, this could have been accomplished without Trump ending the subsidies. He's such an idiot.

  • Michelle Boswell

    There is nothing affordable about it. My husband and I just lost our so called insurance. Cancelled, we could not afford it.

  • Clob

    If Susan Collins agrees with this, every sane person should as well.

  • Clob

    I honestly feel sad for Ivanka and Jared trying to defend their father and father-in-law.

    Oh, wait, they've never done that.

  • Clob

    Can't stop laughing.

    How many tweets will The Child make in the morning?

  • Harrison2253

    Look who's talking the loose cannon himself

  • Alessandro

    Hopefully Trump's mental illness is diagnosed and treated

  • Suspect Everything

    Funny to watch how ad the system is when Trump does the udging. 24 hours go the left and right oudn't tlk at ll. Put a little job security threat via vter backlash and look what happens. It's a miracle!!!