President Donald J. Trump told Republican senators on Tuesday he supports an Obamacare market stabilization bill offered by Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, which may help bolster support for the tax-cut legislation headed for a vote this week.
Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota quoted Trump as telling Republican senators, "I support the Alexander-Murray bill."
"He actually made it very clear that he supported the Alexander-Murray bill," Rounds said of the president's remarks during a luncheon meeting with senators. "He sees it as a transition away from Obamacare."
Alexander of Tennessee said he was "delighted" that the president didn't put any conditions on his support for the legislation.
The president's position has zigzagged on the Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies that the legislation would restore, and which Trump said last month he'll cut off. The move represents a reversal for Trump after he repeatedly attacked the insurer payments as a "bailout."
Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have said they want the Alexander-Murray plan put into law to mitigate potential premium increases caused by the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in tax overhaul legislation.
Republican leaders can't afford to lose more than two votes on the tax legislation among GOP senators for the tax bill to pass. Collins and Murkowski helped sink the Senate's earlier attempt to repeal Obamacare, and Republican leaders have actively courted their support to assure passage of the tax cuts. Legislation to allow drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was sought by Murkowski, also was tied to the tax measure.
Collins, who had a separate meeting with the president and Alexander on Tuesday, said Trump also said he supports a bill she introduced with Senator Bill Nelson of Florida to give states seed money for high-risk pools "which would ensure that people with pre-existing conditions are protected and also to lower premiums." Alexander specified that Collins's bill would provide $3 billion to $5 billion to states to set up the high-risk pools.
Rounds said it's not clear if the health-care measure would come up before, during or after the tax legislation passes. But Collins said there's an agreement to consider Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson and sign them into law before the House and Senate finish negotiating their differences on the tax bill, giving lawmakers a narrow window to act. It's not clear how much support the health-care proposal has in the House.
Asked about Trump's support for the bill, Murray of Washington said it wouldn't mitigate the harm the GOP tax plan would do to the health-care system.
"I appreciate that," Murray said in an interview. "It doesn't fix the hole they create with the provisions they have in the tax bill."