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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Sen. Lamar Alexander with Reps. Greg Walden Ryan Costello and Sen. Mike Rounds. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Key congressional Republicans are turning their attention to the debate over health care costs, but some of their colleagues aren’t ready to tackle that issue outside the context of their ongoing campaign against the Affordable Care Act. That could make it harder to get anything done.

Why it matters: Health care costs are one of the top issues voters say they care about, but any plan to address them would likely need to be bipartisan.

What to watch: The Senate health committee will begin a series of cost hearings this week. The House isn’t far behind, now that it has wrapped up a marathon of opioids bills.

  • “That is our next issue," Energy and Commerce chairman Greg Walden said. "We’re just going to march through every segment of this. That’s every segment: that’s pharmaceuticals, that’s PMBs, that’s doctors, that’s hospitals."
  • "I think we can find more common ground there and get more done there for consumers, and that’s where we should focus,” Walden said.

Yes, but: Some Republicans aren’t prepared to choose between a cost-control agenda and a repeal-and-replace agenda.

  • "I think if you address health care costs you’re basically repealing and replacing Obamacare. It’s really one and the same," Sen. Mike Rounds told me.
  • “I think we definitely should continue to look at ways to improve the system. And maybe, who knows, after November you get a Senate that will do repeal and replace. We’ll see,” Rep. Brett Guthrie said.

Reality check: Rising premiums for ACA coverage are just a small part of the overall system, which is grappling with drug prices, surprise hospital bills and a trend toward higher out-of-pocket spending.

  • "People appropriately think that health care costs is a problem, health insurance costs is another problem, and what happened with the Affordable Care Act really didn’t do anything to solve either of those problems for most families. And we need to be talking about how we solve both of those problems," Sen. Roy Blunt told me.

Go deeper

CPAC Republicans choose conservatism over constituents

Rep. Matt Gaetz. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

CPAC proved such a draw, conservative Republicans chose the conference over their constituents.

Why it matters: More than a dozen House Republicans voted by proxy on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in Washington so they could speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC. And Sen. Ted Cruz skipped an Air Force One flight as President Biden flew to Cruz's hometown of Houston to survey storm damage.

Border Democrat warns Biden about immigrant fallout

Henry Cuellar (right). Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images

A Democratic lawmaker representing a border district warned the Biden administration against easing up too much on unauthorized immigrants, citing their impact on his constituents, local hospitals and their potential to spread the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told Axios he supports President Biden. But the moderate said he sees the downsides of efforts to placate pro-immigrant groups, an effort that threatens to blow up on the administration.

In CPAC speech, Trump says he won't start a 3rd party

Trump at CPAC on Feb. 28 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Courtesy of C-SPAN.

In his first public speech since leaving office, former President Trump told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he would not start a third party because "we have the Republican party."

Why it matters: The former president aims to cement himself as Republicans' "presumptive 2024 nominee" as his top contenders — including former members of his administration — face the challenge of running against the GOP's most popular politician.

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