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After collapse of Obamacare repeal in the Senate, growing calls for bipartisanship

The sensational collapse of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare in the Senate last week is fueling fresh optimism that lawmakers might finally work in a bipartisan fashion to fix the Affordable Care Act.

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MJ Lee
Deirdre Walsh (CNN)

The sensational collapse of Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare in the Senate last week is fueling fresh optimism that lawmakers might finally work in a bipartisan fashion to fix the Affordable Care Act.

A group of around 40 House Republicans and Democrats known as the Problem Solvers Caucus has endorsed an outline of ideas aimed at making urgent fixes to Obamacare. While there is no legislative text yet, members in the caucus are moving quickly to seize the defeat of a Senate bill last Friday to garner broader support for their proposals -- and force the GOP to ditch its quest to gut the current health care law once and for all.

The group's proposal includes mandatory funding for cost-sharing reduction payments; the creation of a stability fund; a repeal of the medical device tax; and increasing the employer mandate's threshold so that companies with 500 employees or more, rather than 50, are required to provide workers with health insurance.

But while plenty of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say Congress needs to prevent a collapse of the market that could hurt millions of consumers and increase uncertainty, President Donald Trump had a different message after legislative efforts failed last week: "Let Obamacare implode."

In tweets over the weekend, the President also threatened to discontinue paying insurance companies the cost-sharing subsidies, which help lower out-of-pocket expenses for low-income policyholders.

And House Speaker Paul Ryan's spokeswoman made it clear that the bipartisan health care proposals were not moving anytime soon in the House.

"While the speaker appreciates members coming together to promote ideas, he remains focused on repealing and replacing Obamacare," AshLee Strong told CNN.

The effort comes from Republican and Democratic lawmakers representing the most competitive districts across the country. Members from deep-red or -blue districts are unlikely to join the effort, as the party bases are deeply split, with those backing Trump determined to see the Obamacare system totally unraveled, and those on the far left determined to move toward a "single-payer" health care system.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi didn't specifically comment on the Problem Solvers Caucus' plan, but instead pressed GOP leaders to give up the one-party approach they have taken thus far and work on proposals to fix the law.

"The Republican Leadership should finally move past repeal, follow the example of their members releasing some proposals with Democrats today, and come to the table for serious bipartisan conversations," Pelosi said in a written statement on Monday.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, stressed the importance of the group's bipartisan approach as well as its goal to stabilize the individual market, specifically with the 2018 midterm elections quickly approaching.

"The big headline here is: Democrats, Republicans trying to find a way forward. We're not going to solve everything, but we're trying to deal with the problem at hand, and that's exactly what we did," McSally, who voted in favor of the House health care bill, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

"So these are singles and doubles. It's not a home run for everybody, but we're here to govern," she added.

New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, the Democratic leader of the Problem Solvers Caucus, also acknowledged that their initial proposal "does not attempt to do everything" -- but that it's a start.

"Instead of just focusing on killing the ACA, we're focused on how to fix it in a smart way," Gottheimer told CNN on Monday. "When (Sen. John) McCain said on the floor it's time to work together like the country wants - that had a big influence on our group. It was a shot in the arm."

McCain, a veteran Republican senator from Arizona, shocked his colleagues in the early morning hours of Friday when he opposed a GOP plan to repeal key portions of Obamacare. The vote came after months of failed negotiations to produce a more comprehensive "repeal and replace" bill that had enough support among Senate Republicans.

Just days after returning to Washington after receiving surgery for brain cancer, McCain ultimately joined two other Republican senators in voting "no" -- Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- and handed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell a dramatic political setback.

Following the Senate bill's failure, Republican lawmakers across the ideological spectrum have shown mixed reactions.

Some argue that that the GOP must continue to try to honor its years-long campaign promise to overhaul former President Barack Obama's legacy achievement. Others are just as insistent that it's time for the party to leave a comprehensive health care overhaul behind and focus on smaller fixes that Democrats can get behind -- while moving onto other legislative items like tax reform.

"I'm critical of the Obama administration and the then-Democratic majority of passing legislation on a very partisan basis," New Jersey Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus who voted against a House bill to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, told CNN.

"I don't think it is ever the best way to proceed when you have major policy in this country determined exclusively by one political party, based upon my reading of history," he said.

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