The two most powerful men in Congress were headed for a fight over funding for elements of the Affordable Care Act, with a decision needed by the end of this week. Then two Republican senators made their problem go away.
Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., asked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold off on including Affordable Care Act fixes in a stopgap spending measure, avoiding a potential showdown between the two chambers of Congress.
McConnell had promised to include measures to stabilize the ACA—including funding cost-sharing reduction payments—in the Senate's spending bill in an effort to woo Collins, whose vote on the tax bill was crucial. Collins' call for ACA stabilization legislation was in response to the tax bill's repeal of the law's individual mandate, which could further destabilize the marketplaces.
Collins and Alexander said in a joint statement that they would return to ACA fixes in the new year, and that they would seek bipartisan input.
"It looks like the Christmas present of lower insurance premiums will now have to be a Valentine's Day present," Alexander said. "It is hard to add our bills to a year-end package that does not yet exist."
The House had set its sights on pushing through a highly conservative spending bill, Politico reported, which would have likely brought it into conflict with the Senate with just days to reach an agreement.
Collins said in the statement that House Speaker Paul Ryan had contacted her, and said the House is "committed to passing legislation to provide for high-risk pools and other reinsurance mechanisms" like those in her legislation. However, Ryan has also distanced himself from the ACA stabilization bills, as he has told other congressional leaders that he played no role in McConnell's deal with Collins.
Previously, Senate Republicans have considered adding controversial antiabortion language into their spending bill to bring House Republicans on board, according to the Politico article. But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had suggested that his wing would not vote for the bill if that's included, and the Senate needs 60 votes to pass a spending measure.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Bloomberg that the tax bill's repeal of the individual mandate would make the ACA "unworkable," which could push Democrats to work with the GOP on healthcare.
"Hopefully this will precipitate the bipartisan negotiation on what we need to do as an alternative," said Cornyn, the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate.
Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout to reflect the fact that Congress no longer plans to include the ACA stabilization measures in its stopgap funding bill.