- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Moderate Republicans accused Democrats Wednesday of using an abortion fight to tank Congress’ last chance to stabilize Obamacare, saying they’d rather use soaring premiums as a cudgel against the GOP in November than help struggling consumers.

“This is phony. I hope you lose votes. I hope you lose seats. You’re not worthy of governing this place,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “I’ve never been more disappointed in my Democratic colleagues.”

Senior GOP lawmakers said President Trump went out on a limb by rallying support for three years of “cost-sharing” payments to insurers and $30 billion in “reinsurance” to subsidize pricey Obamacare enrollees as part of a spending bill that must pass by Friday to keep the federal government open — even though his conservative base opposes efforts to bolster the 2010 law.

House leaders are putting the finishing touches on the “omnibus” spending bill. But they’re unlikely to include the Obamacare funds, because GOP leaders said the dollars shouldn’t be used to prop up plans that cover abortion.

Democrats whose votes are critical to passage have refused the so-called “Hyde” ban, saying it would go further than Affordable Care Act language that allowed plans to cover abortions so long as they set aside a separate funding stream for the service.

Republicans working to stabilize the markets said they’re in charge now, so Democrats cannot demand terms they crafted with a supermajority in 2010 and then blame the GOP for rising rates, particularly since Hyde language is attached to many federal programs.

“It makes you think that maybe they want the political argument in the fall, rather than solve the problem today,” Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden said.

Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine, who are leading the stabilization effort, said the omnibus bill is probably the last chance to shore up the markets before insurers submit 2019 rates that will be finalized and announced shortly before the election.

If House GOP leaders don’t include the language — as is expected — sponsors might ask Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a symbolic vote to put their colleagues on record, as both sides prepare to assign blame.

Democrats argue the GOP injected a roadblock to the Obamacare package to mollify its conservative base, even though leaders are counting on moderate Republicans and Democrats to carry the spending package across the finish line.

Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said she worked in good faith to devise a package that could win support from both sides of the aisle, prior to the abortion standoff.

“It’s unfortunate that Senator McConnell and Speaker Ryan have time and time again rejected bipartisan work on health care in favor of partisan health care politics, and chosen politically-driven show votes over getting a result for families,” she said.

Democrats also say the GOP poisoned the health effort by using its tax bill to repeal the individual mandate to hold insurance.

It is Obamacare’s primary prod for herding healthier people into the exchanges, so insurers plan to hike premiums to guard their bottom lines against a sicker customer base.

In addition, some liberal groups said Congress shouldn’t restore the cost-sharing subsidies, since states were able to adjust in a way that boosted premium subsidies on the exchanges.

State regulators said the process, dubbed “silver loading,” allowed subsidized customers to find bronze loans for free and bolstered the 2018 enrollment period, despite Mr. Trump’s antipathy toward the law.

Mr. Alexander said those super-sized subsidies will do little to assist 9 million hardworking people who buy insurance on their own but do not qualify for subsidies.

He said his legislative package would reduce their rates by up to 40 percent, in some cases.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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