Signs of a (small) bipartisan thaw in Washington

Could the deal President Trump reached with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., which raised the debt ceiling and provided seed money for hurricane relief, signal a path forward on such issues as health care and tax policy?

Most Americans, who would actually like to see their government accomplish things, would welcome such a change in Washington.

In search of other silver linings, we note that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, chaired by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has been holding hearings the last two weeks on possible steps to stabilize the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act.

That’s right, genuine committee hearings, with expert witnesses of varying political and policy persuasions providing input to senators of both parties.

Also pending is the release of a plan by Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and John Hickenlooper of Colorado, a Republican and Democrat, respectively, on the steps that they would take to fix the ACA.

Meanwhile, as the public waits and waits and waits for the details of how Trump would reform the tax system to spur job and wage growth, the administration has reached out to moderate Democrats in the Senate to determine what they could support.

There is no reason to get carried away, of course. The modest deal to raise the debt ceiling only put the problem off until December and the $22 billion for FEMA’s disaster relief fund is at best a down payment given the hurricane damage in southeast Texas and all of Florida. It’s too soon to say whether the deal was an aberration or a trend.

Yet Trump appeared to relish the fact that something was accomplished, even if it meant 90 of his fellow Republicans voted “no” in the House and 17 balked in the Senate.

The president has watched the Republicans fail to meet their long-stated goal of repealing and replacing “Obamacare.” His administration shared the blame (though Trump does not see it that way) by failing to offer its own specific replacement plan and working to get the votes to pass it. The president left things to the House and Senate Republican leaders, which showed there was no Republican consensus on how to proceed.

Not an ideologue, and seemingly adverse to sweating the details of legislation, Trump could well accept as at least a temporary victory a bipartisan plan that tweaks Obamacare and keeps folks insured. Never one for letting the facts get in the way, Trump could be expected to overplay the significance of such an accomplishment and somehow paint it as a replacement for Obamacare. If that’s what it takes, so be it.

Alexander and the ranking Democrat on his committee, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, have set the modest goal of passing legislation that would continue the payment of cost-sharing subsidies to insurance companies and grant states more flexibility in adjusting health insurance rules.

The intent of the federal subsidies to insurance companies is to enable them to provide coverage to their most expensive patients without having to increase premiums for other policyholders. Trump has repeatedly threatened to halt the subsidies, creating uncertainty that has contributed to the decision by some insurance companies to pull out of the exchanges serving individual policyholders and for others to jack up rates.

While protecting the subsidies is a Democratic priority, providing states wider latitude in determining what are essential health benefits that insurers must pay for and allowing higher out-of-pocket costs in return for lower premiums are Republican priorities.

Such small steps as securing the subsidies and building in greater flexibility could stabilize the existing ACA system while the debate about health care continues.

There are plenty of potential impediments. Consensus may not be reached. Republican House and Senate leaders may block any proposal that cannot be sold to their voters as Obamacare repeal.

On health care, taxes and other issues, some Democrats may find that working with Trump will invite a rebellion among core party supporters.

By December, the threat of a government shutdown returns. Perhaps Trump’s deal with “Chuck and Nancy” will prove temporary and not terribly significant.

Or maybe the man who campaigned as the ultimate deal maker will start doing more of that by reaching across party lines.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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