Regular Order? Maybe Not For Alexander-Murray Bill

A markup could open door to partisan battle over the 2010 health law

Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., ranking member, are seen during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "Examining How Healthy Choices Can Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Costs," on October 19. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A committee markup of a bipartisan health bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray could add another potentially fatal complication for the measure that is already under significant pressure.

Senators from both parties have for months decried the lack of regular order in the chamber as Republicans tried to jam through legislation to repeal the 2010 health law.

Now, after the proposal from the duo that helms the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee solicited enough support on Thursday to pass the chamber if a vote were held, sponsors are unclear on how the bill will advance.

“We haven’t made a decision on that yet,” Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, said when asked whether a markup will be held.

Both Republican leaders and Democrats on HELP, however, said the committee process would be necessary.

“I think our folks will want to have regular order on that,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota said.

“I think a very fast markup,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said. “We’ve already had lots of hearings.”

When the 2010 health law was advancing through the Senate, the health panel held a 13-day markup of the legislation. The Senate Finance Committee held an eight-day markup.

While the legislation from Alexander and Murray is much smaller and focuses on providing short-term relief to the insurance markets, a markup of the bill could devolve into a bitter and partisan battle over the law.

Alexander said if the legislation were to go through regular order, it would fall under the jurisdiction of the Finance panel, where support for it remains an open question.

“I’m not very enthused about it. It’s more of the same. More big spending, more big government, more lack of a solution,” Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, the committee’s chairman, said on Thursday.

When asked if he would be open to holding a markup on the bill, Hatch said “I don’t know.”

“We’ll have to take a look at it,” the Utah Republican said.

When asked, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, could also not definitely say.

“The most important thing is to get premiums down,” he said.

The legislation still faces an uphill battle in the chamber. While 60 senators have come out in support of it — enough to overcome a filibuster and proceed to debate on the bill — it remains unclear whether President Donald Trump supports it.

“We need his support, so we’ll let him work his magic on it,” Sen. Mike Rounds said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has not yet announced his position on the legislation and whether it would receive a vote in the chamber.

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