Big shift on health care, as Senate Republicans opt for September hearings

Unable to find a 50th vote for a GOP plan to overhaul Obamacare, Republicans on Tuesday announced they would hold hearings in the Senate after Labor Day, in hopes of spurring a bipartisan agreement in Congress on short term plans to stabilize markets for individual insurance policies, just before insurance companies set their premiums for 2018.

"We will hear from state insurance commissioners, patients, governors, health care experts and insurance companies," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"For the short term, the proposal is by mid-September to see if we can agree on a way to stabilize the individual insurance market," Alexander added.

The decision was a big turnaround for Republicans, who had steadfastly avoided hearings on their plan to overhaul the Obama health law.

"I'm glad to get to work on health care with Sen. Alexander," said the top Democrat on that panel, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). "We've tackled tough issues together before."

"I'm very excited by that," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) about the announcement of the bipartisan hearings. "I think that's the direction we should have gone in the first place."

Like Collins, the idea of more hearings, and a deeper explanation of what's involved on health care also resonated with another of the Republican "No" votes as well.

"I like process; I think process is good for all of us," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on Monday. "I think it makes us a better institution."

Alexander said the process of developing some kind of interim health care plan would not only be bipartisan, but would involve more than just the members of his committee, as Republicans changed their tune on working with Democrats from where things stood a week ago, when the GOP 'skinny' bill was defeated.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - for a second straight day - didn't even mention health care on the floor of the Senate, as he talked about what he hoped to get the Senate to accomplish during the first two weeks of August.

Meanwhile, some Republicans were still exploring ways to find 50 votes - only from Republicans - for a GOP health care bill.

"I like the idea that we are not quitting," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to reporters just off the Senate floor. "We haven't tried all options yet."

Down at the White House, officials were still publicly urging GOP leaders not to give up.

"We know that Obamacare is failing, we know that inaction is not okay," said incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But for now, the push to get something done that is wide-ranging, seems to be going on the back burner - though Republicans still remain just one vote away from getting enough support for a broader package in the Senate.

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