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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The Senate HELP Committee kicks off a series of hearings today about how best to stabilize the ACA's most fragile insurance markets. And even before the process has even begun, it seems like almost everyone is on the same bleak page: Some sort of stabilization effort is necessary, and it's hard to see Congress actually doing it.

That's the consensus from Hill staff, industry, lobbyists and even some lawmakers.

  • "No one seems to think this HELP Committee thing is passable before the end of the year," a well-placed GOP lobbyist said.
  • Sen. Roy Blunt told Caitlin he wasn't sure this could get done on HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander's ideal timeline — before the end of the month — given the slew of other priorities the Senate also has to deal with in September (funding the government, raising the debt ceiling, Harvey relief, etc.).

Even so, among more moderate Republicans, there's at least some willingness to buckle down and try to make something work.

"I'd like to think we're all just going to put the gum down so that we can walk straight together … We've been accused of not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. So let's put the distractions aside, let's focus, we've got some really serious stuff to do," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who helped kill repeal-and-replace, told Caitlin last night.

What they'll say: We kinda already know how this would have to shake out in order for something to pass. Alexander's opening statement today will sum it up pretty well:

  • "To get a result, Democrats will have to agree to something – more flexibility for states – that some are reluctant to support. And Republicans will have to agree to something – additional funding through the Affordable Care Act – that some are reluctant to support."

Some combination of those two recommendations is the common refrain we can expect to hear from witnesses, too, over the course of these hearings. But it seems like it'll take lawmakers a while to get there, if they get there at all.

  • Sen. Patty Murray, the committee's top Democrat, opened with an op-ed yesterday that extolled, among other potential solutions, the return of the public option. Which, c'mon. That's barely plausible even as a negotiating position.
  • The conservative advocacy group Freedom Partners is already out with a digital ad opposing the stabilization effort, slamming it as a "bailing out the failing law." It's just one digital ad (for now, anyway), but it's another sign of just how difficult this road will be.

Go deeper

Symone Sanders leaving VP's office

Vice President Kamala Harris and her press secretary Symone Sanders. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Symone Sanders, senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris, is leaving the VP’s office by the end of this year, three White House officials told Axios on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The VP has faced an onslaught of criticism in her first year centered on her leadership and staff, adding to the suggestion, she’s not the Democratic Party’s preferred nominee for 2024.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Updated 2 hours ago - Health

Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP fights itself on shutdown politics

Reporters question Senate Minority Whip John Thune before the Republican Party's weekly lunch on Tuesday. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are scrambling to reach a deal with a bloc of 15 Senate Republicans threatening a government shutdown to force a fight over the Biden administration's vaccine mandates.

Why it matters: The push to defund the mandates — by holding the short-term government funding bill hostageis largely symbolic, and highly controversial within the Republican Party. A shutdown as early as midnight Friday could trigger everything from national park closures to delays in receiving Social Security checks.

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