October 22, 2017 / 2:28 PM / 3 years ago

McConnell on healthcare bills: What does Trump want?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Sunday he was willing to bring healthcare legislation up for a vote but was waiting for the go-ahead from President Donald Trump, who sent mixed signals last week about a bipartisan bill that would shore up insurance markets.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waits to speak to reporters following a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The Republican president said on Oct. 12 that his administration would stop paying billions of dollars in subsidies that help insurers give discounts to low-income households under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Last week, he praised and then dismissed a bipartisan bill to reinstate the subsidies for two years, until a broader replacement to Obamacare can be negotiated.

That legislation, introduced by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray, has drawn support from several Republican senators.

Asked if he would put it up for a vote this week, McConnell, the Senate majority leader, punted to Trump.

“What I’m waiting for is to hear from President Trump what kind of healthcare bill he might sign,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“If there’s a need for some kind of interim step here to stabilize the market, we need a bill the president will actually sign,” he said. “I’m not certain yet what the president is looking for here, but I’ll be happy to bring a bill to the floor if I know President Trump would sign it.”

McConnell said he believed Trump had not made up his mind about short-term legislation that would fall short of his promise for a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

Trump promised during his presidential campaign to get rid of Obamacare, the signature healthcare law of his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama. However, his fellow Republicans, who control Congress, have failed to do so because of deep party divisions.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, opposes the Alexander-Murray bill. With Trump waffling, its chances appeared to dim.

Democrats, meanwhile, pushed McConnell to bring the bill to the floor, saying the legislation would prevent insurance premiums from rising sharply.

“The president holds the key to preventing premiums from going up. Now that Leader McConnell has made it clear he will put the Murray-Alexander bill on the floor as soon as the president supports it, the president should say that he does,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer told NBC’s “Meet the Press” all 48 Democrats in the Senate back the bill.

Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Dan Grebler and Lisa Von Ahn

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