Congress at crossroads after another GOP health care failure

Congress is at a crossroads after Republicans’ stinging failure to repeal Barack Obama’s health care law. But what’s next — more partisan conflict, or a pragmatic shift toward cooperation?

Unless Republicans and Democrats in Congress can work together — and bring along an often unpredictable President Donald Trump — political conflict over health care may spread. Bipartisan talks on legislation to stabilize the health law’s shaky insurance markets are on again, but time is short and there’s no guarantee of success.

Adding to concerns: Congress has yet to renew funding for programs that traditionally enjoy broad support, such as children’s health insurance and community health centers, despite approaching deadlines.

Feelings were raw Tuesday after Senate GOP leaders announced they would not take their latest “repeal and replace” bill to the floor for lack of support. But some lawmakers said it’s still possible to bridge the partisan gap on a limited set of priority issues.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he would resume efforts to reach a bipartisan deal with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to stabilize markets for individual insurance policies that 18 million people rely on. More than half of those consumers are covered under the health law.

Alexander is chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, and Murray is his Democratic counterpart. He runs the risk of being accused by some fellow Republicans of trying to “bailout Obamacare.” And Murray is under pressure from fellow Democrats not to make concessions to Alexander.

“I’m still concerned about the next two years, and Congress has an opportunity to slow down premium increases in 2018, begin to lower them in 2019, and do our best to make sure there are no counties where people have zero options to buy health insurance,” Alexander said in a statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who has worked with Republicans on a range of health care issues, said cooperation is the only way to avoid creating needless problems for constituents.

“You recognize the opportunities that are in front of you,” said Wyden, ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, which oversees health care funding. “My hope is we can come together.”

Wyden’s list includes renewing the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 9 million kids, whose funding expires this week, as well as short-term action to stabilize the Affordable Care Act’s insurance markets, by guaranteeing subsidies for…

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