President Trump on Wednesday backed off his support for a bipartisan deal to restore critical Obamacare payments, dealing a major blow to the effort just a day after he praised the compromise that a key senator said the president himself had “engineered.”
Mr. Trump said he worried the agreement would “enrich the insurance companies,” who he said have already made enough money off Obamacare, rather than help struggling customers.
Still, he encouraged the negotiators, including Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, to keep working.
“I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care,” the president said on Twitter.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said the draft agreement between Mr. Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is “not a full approach, and we need something to go a little bit further to get on board.”
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan also threw cold water on the deal Tuesday, dimming its prospects for passage through Congress.
“The speaker does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare,” Ryan spokesman Doug Andres said.
The agreement would have given congressional approval to what’s known as “cost-sharing reductions,” federal money sent to insurers to reimburse them for covering out-of-pocket health care costs of lower-income Americans.
In exchange for continued payments, which Democrats wanted, the deal would also allow states limited flexibility from some Obamacare rules — though it would not have tinkered with the strict coverage requirements that force plans to include a broad range of services.
The president appeared to support the package around lunchtime Tuesday, waffle on it during a dinnertime speech Tuesday evening at The Heritage Foundation, and then reject it by breakfast Wednesday.
Senior Democrats fumed over Mr. Trump’s changing tune.
“Mr. President, you cannot govern a country, you cannot keep America great, if you don’t know what’s in the bills and don’t have a consistent policy about them,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said. “But he keeps zigging and zagging. Our only hope is maybe tomorrow he’ll be for this again.”
Mr. Schumer said the president’s complaints about enriching insurance companies didn’t make sense since the Alexander-Murray agreement would have made sure insurers didn’t “double dip” by pocketing both reimbursements and higher premiums.
He said Mr. Trump’s shifting stance fits a pattern in which the president entertains a bipartisan deal, such as aiding illegal immigrant “Dreamers,” only to get skittish when his hard-right allies complain.
“So he backs off,” Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Schumer and Mr. Alexander said they’ll keep working, seeking 10 to 15 co-sponsors from either party, then present the bill to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the floor.
Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, announced his support, saying the bill will ensure that constituents “do not continue to be burdened with rising premiums and fewer choices.”
Mr. Alexander has been working for weeks on a deal, looking to stabilize Obamacare markets that are facing massive premium spikes — cost increases the insurance companies are blaming on uncertainty in the federal law.
Pressure to find a compromise deal grew after Mr. Trump late last week said he would stop making the cost-sharing payments, saying the Justice Department had concluded that since Congress never authorized them, they were illegal.
“He completely engineered the bipartisan agreement that Sen. Murray and I announced yesterday,” the senator said at a health care forum organized by Axios, a news organization.
At the White House Wednesday, Mr. Trump said of the proposal, “If something can happen, that’s fine, but I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies.”
“They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody’s ever seen before,” he told reporters.
Any changes that remove the payments would blow up the bipartisan heart of the deal since Democrats and skittish Republicans say the main point is to prevent states from approving higher premiums after Mr. Trump failed to guarantee the money.
The main insurance lobby said Wednesday it supported Mr. Alexander’s effort to continue the payments.
“This bill will provide American consumers with a more stable insurance market, states with more flexibility to meet the needs of their citizens, and more choice and more affordable care,” America’s Health Insurance Plans said.
The National Retail Foundation also said it supports the bill.
Sen. Tim Kaine suggested that Congress might attach the bill to an upcoming must-pass piece of legislation to get it through.
“Congress owes the American public some important thing where we say ‘Look, we can work together,’” the Virginia Democrat told the Axios crowd.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this article.
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