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The White House is divided on what to do about ACA market stabilization. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

The White House is internally divided over what to do about individual market stabilization efforts, congressional aides say, and there's no consensus among lawmakers, either. Although there's growing alarm over rising premiums and an increasing sense of urgency to address them, many Republicans are still very wary of the endeavor, especially in the House.

Between the lines: Practically speaking, there's a strong case to be made for addressing insurance premiums ahead of the midterm elections, as many Republicans know. But helping to fix the Affordable Care Act is still a tough pill for many conservatives to swallow, and the president is obviously prone to change his mind many times over on any particular issue.

Driving the debate: For months, some members of Congress – particularly Sens. Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray and Susan Collins – have been pushing to fund the ACA's cost-sharing reduction payments, which President Trump stopped paying last year.

  • Several estimates, including one from the Office of Management and Budget, have said cutting off the payments raised premiums by double digits in 2018. Funding them would both lower premiums and save the government money.
  • The idea of subsidizing high-cost patients through a reinsurance program is also gaining steam on the Hill. Some say this would be easier than funding the subsidies, because of issues related to abortion coverage. But OMB's memo yesterday made clear that from a fiscal standpoint, funding the subsidies is an easier lift.

What we're hearing: There's internal disagreement within the White House over whether to fund the insurer subsidies — and, among those who are supportive, disagreement on what the package should look like.

The bottom line, per a source close to both the White House and GOP leadership: Almost everyone wants to lower premiums, but both Congress and the administration have yet to decide what they want that to look like. There's division in both branches.

Yes, but: Alexander told reporters he expects stabilization measures to be part of a must-pass omnibus spending bill this month. "I have talked to the president in the last three weeks, and I expect to talk with him again. He’s also strongly in favor of it," he said.

  • Collins also struck an optimistic tone: “We’ve had very good conversations with the administration...I’ve had many conversations with them, and we’re proceeding well.”
  • Then there's Sen. Mike Rounds, who worked closely with Alexander and Murray on their stabilization package last year: “We haven’t gotten any signals at all lately.”

Our thought bubble: This feels a little bit like chicken-and-the-egg: Congress isn't quite sure how to proceed without the White House's blessing and direction, and the White House doesn't have a congressional package to sign off on.

Go deeper

GOP research firm aims to hobble Biden nominees

Alejandro Mayorkas. Photo: Joshua Roberts/AFP via Getty Images

The Republican-aligned opposition research group America Rising is doing all it can to prevent President Biden from seating his top Cabinet picks.

Why it matters: After former President Trump inhibited the transition, Biden is hoping the Republican minority in Congress will cooperate with getting his team in place. Biden hadn't even been sworn in when America Rising began blasting opposition research to reporters targeting Janet Yellen and Alejandro Mayorkas.

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Jen Psaki: "With that I’d love to take your questions”

In her inaugural briefing as White House press secretary, Jen Psaki said she has a “deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy,” and pledged to hold daily briefings.

Why it matters: Conferences with the press secretary in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room became almost non-existent under the Trump administration. By sending Psaki to the podium hours after President Biden took the oath of office, the White House signaled a return to pre-Trump norms.

Avril Haines confirmed as director of national intelligence

Haines. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Image

Avril Haines was quickly confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as the director of national intelligence (DNI) in a vote of 84-10.

Why it matters: Haines is the first of President Biden's nominees to receive a full Senate confirmation and she will be the first woman to serve as DNI. She's previously served as CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015 and deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017.