Trump's confusion puts bipartisan health care compromise at risk

Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
epa06257124 US President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks to members of the news media while hosting former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (not pictured)...

Bipartisan compromises on Capitol Hill aren't especially common, so the news out of D.C. yesterday afternoon understandably caused a stir. The top two lawmakers on the Senate committee that oversees health care policy -- Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced the outline of an important agreement that would undo some of the systemic damage done by Donald Trump.

The basic contours of the Alexander/Murray deal are pretty straightforward: Democrats would get funding for cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments through 2019 and renewed investments in ACA outreach programs, while Republicans would get expanded state flexibility and lower eligibility standards for catastrophic plans. Essential health benefits under the existing law would remain unchanged.

While there are still some details to be worked out, all things considered, it's a good, bipartisan package. The plan is probably too late to help consumers in the short term who've already been hurt by Trump's antics, but it would nevertheless help bring some stability to markets that need it.

The question, however, is whether it can pass. The answer may depend on the wishes of the president who created the mess Alexander and Murray are trying to clean up.

So, what does Donald Trump think of the compromise? It depends on the day and time you ask him -- because at this point, he's starting to sound a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

Last week, the president hated cost-sharing-reduction payments. "If you take a look at CSR payments, that money is going to insurance companies to prop up insurance companies," he said on Friday. He added on Monday that the CSRs are "a payoff" and "a disgrace."

Yesterday afternoon, Trump went in the opposite direction, expressing support for the bipartisan deal that extends the cost-sharing-reduction payments he claims to oppose.

Last night, Trump reversed course again.

In an evening speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, he said that "while I commend" the work by the two senators, "I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies."A White House official said Trump's statement was aimed at conveying opposition to the Alexander-Murray plan.

A Washington Post analysis published yesterday afternoon concluded, "Trump doesn’t seem to have any idea what he’s doing on health care."

I won't pretend to know what's going to happen -- perhaps the confused president will change his mind again this morning -- but if Trump opposes the compromise, it's unlikely to pass. Perhaps we'll know more when the president stops debating himself.

Update: Despite praising the Alexander/Murray deal yesterday, Trump tweeted this morning, "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."