As if Sen. Lamar Alexander didn’t face enough difficulties trying to craft a bipartisan bill to shore up Obamacare, he’s taking hostile fire from one of his most powerful Republican colleagues — the other health care chairman.
Alexander is “stealing our jurisdiction,” Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch told POLITICO, referring to the turf split between his panel and Alexander’s HELP Committee. “It’s pretty hard to get excited about what he’s doing.”
The long-simmering battle between the two Senate heavyweights over health care jurisdiction, a precious Senate commodity, came to a head with Hatch’s comments Wednesday, which followed his scathing Washington Post op-ed the week before. The op-ed didn’t mention Alexander by name but made clear Hatch opposed the bill to stabilize Obamacare, which he called a “bailout” of insurance companies that “would do little more than shore up the bad policies already in place with another slate of bad policies.”
And the sniping, unusual in the typically staid and well-mannered Senate, has grown bolder and personal in recent days as Republicans wrestle between Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy’s last-ditch attempt to repeal Obamacare and Alexander’s attempt to shore up next year’s insurance markets. Alexander hopes to cut a deal by early this week with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. If he can do that, Hatch’s opposition could be a huge barrier in getting other Republicans to go along.
The dispute tracks the GOP philosophical rift on Obamacare: Alexander argues the GOP has a responsibility to protect Americans from a collapsing health care market. Hatch, in a sentiment echoed by Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, are skeptical of repairing the Democrats’ faulty law without significant structural changes.
“He’s got a very broad jurisdiction but it isn’t as broad as he sometimes thinks,” the Utah Republican said of his colleague. “That doesn’t mean he can’t do legislation that’s outside of his jurisdiction — he can. But if he’s doing it, it ought to at least be something he runs by us.”
Alexander argues the policy is more important than the jurisdiction.
“The jurisdiction, I think, should be of secondary importance to the people of this country who can’t afford a $1,000 or $1,500 increase in their premiums,” the Tennessee Republican said. “The Finance Committee is free to deal with these same issues if it would like to. And they could have a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill if that’s a better option.”
At the heart of the dispute is which committee gets to control the 1332 waiver program that gives state officials…