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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

The Mischief Makers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties and political thorns for their leadership.

Why it matters: We're calling this group "The Mischief Makers" — members who threaten to upend party unity — the theme eclipsing Washington at the moment — and potentially jeopardize the Democrats' or Republicans' position heading into the 2022 midterms.

26 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Obama speechwriter fears Biden unity drive is one-sided

Cody Keenan (right) is shown heading to Marine One in December 2009. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Obama's former speechwriter says he's "preemptively frustrated" with President Biden's effort to find unity with Republicans.

What they're saying: Cody Keenan told Axios that Biden's messaging team has "struck all the right chords," but at some point "they're gonna have to answer questions like, 'Why didn't you achieve unity?' when there's an entire political party that's already acting to stop it."

Scoop: Conservative group puts $700k behind Hawley

Sen. Josh Hawley explains his objection to certifying the 2020 election results hours after the U.S. Capitol siege. Photo: Congress.gov via Getty Images

A Republican group is raising and spending huge amounts of money defending Sen. Josh Hawley after he was ostracized for early January’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Why it matters: The Senate Conservatives Fund is backfilling lost corporate and personal donations with needed political and financial support, helping inoculate the Missouri lawmaker as he weighs re-election or a possible presidential campaign in 2024.

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