Hatch Moves to Reclaim Health Care Turf

Finance chairman legislation could undermine Alexander-Murray effort

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced legislation that could complicate a bipartisan health care bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced legislation that could complicate a bipartisan health care bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 24, 2017 at 12:32pm

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is trying to reclaim his committee’s ownership over health care issues.

The Utah Republican — who chairs the Senate Finance Committee — on Tuesday announced joint legislation with House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas aimed at stabilizing the individual health insurance market created by the 2010 health law.

“This agreement addresses some of the most egregious aspects of Obamacare,” Hatch said in a statement. “This proposal should be part of any discussion about what to do to provide Americans relief from Obamacare.”

The bill — for which legislative text is not yet available — would appear to meet a number of key conservative and White House demands.

The announcement comes as Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the panel’s top Democrat, are pushing their own stabilization bill.

While 60 Senate Republicans and Democrats have come out in support of that legislation, the Hatch-Brady bill could significantly complicate negotiations.

That effort has faced pushback from the Trump administration and the White House has sought to add a number of provisions to the proposal, something Democrats say they are not willing to accommodate.

Hatch has also expressed serious concerns with the measure and hinted at frustrations over Alexander’s efforts to negotiate a bill without the support of the Finance panel.

 

“It is encouraging to see a growing consensus that Congress should fund the cost-sharing reduction payments for two more years,” Alexander said in a statement on the Hatch bill. “Last week, an unusually large bipartisan group — 12 Republican senators and 12 Democratic senators — introduced a bill to fund the payments temporarily and give states permanent new flexibility to stabilize their individual insurance markets.”

Leadership was unaware Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch was working on legislation with House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady that aims to partially overhaul the 2010 health law and stabilize the individual market, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said Tuesday.

“I didn’t know what to make of it honestly,” Cornyn said.

Leadership and health care GOP aides were given notice Tuesday morning the bill was coming, according to an email obtained by Roll Call. The Trump administration was also aware that the proposal was coming, according to a Republican source.

The legislation is a result of months of brewing tension between Hatch and Alexander.

Some animosity between the finance and health panels is expected given the overlap on jurisdiction on health care issues, Cornyn said.

“There’s a sort of natural tension,” he said.

The legislation from Hatch and Brady would repeal the individual and employer mandate, a key demand of the White House and a provision that would likely immediately deter any support from Democrats.

It would also appropriate money for the so-called cost-sharing subsidies, a key demand of Democrats, but would add anti-abortion provisions to the funds that help offset out-of-pocket costs for lower-income Americans. That provision would also likely alienate supporters of the legislation from the duo at the helm of the health committee.

Should President Donald Trump endorse the Hatch bill, it would deal a significant blow to the Alexander-Murray effort and likely prevent it from reaching the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky over the weekend said he would bring the measure up for a vote if Trump supports it.