WASHINGTON — Nov 15, 2017, 12:00 AM ET

Senate GOP intent on scrapping health mandate in tax bill

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Senate Republicans are intent on scrapping the Affordable Care Act's requirement that Americans get health insurance, targeting a repeal of the individual mandate to help finance deep tax cuts in their tax overhaul.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee, confirmed late Tuesday he was revising the bill to include repeal of the insurance mandate "to help provide additional relief to low- and middle-income families."

The surprise renewal of the failed effort to scrap the law's mandate came a day after President Donald Trump renewed pressure on GOP lawmakers to include the repeal in their tax legislation. It has sharp political stakes for Trump, who lacks a major legislative achievement after nearly 10 months in office.

The move by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee upended the debate over the tax measure just as it was inching closer to passage following months of fine-tuning and compromise. It turned the debate into an angry partisan referendum on health care and President Barack Obama's signature law.

Republican efforts to dismantle the law collapsed this past summer as moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in rejecting the repeal — a bitter disappointment for Trump, who lashed out at the Senate GOP for failing. Adding the repeal of the mandate to the tax measure would combine two of Trump's legislative priorities.

Beyond Trump's prodding, the repeal move also was dictated by the Republicans' need to find revenue sources for the massive tax-cut bill, which calls for steep reductions in the corporate tax rate and elimination of some popular tax breaks.

"We are optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful; that's obviously the view of the Senate Finance Committee Republicans," Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.

The "Obamacare" mandate requires most people to buy health insurance coverage or face a fine. Without being forced to get coverage, fewer people would sign up for Medicaid or buy federally subsidized private insurance. Targeting the mandate in the tax legislation would save an estimated $338 billion over a decade, which could be used to help pay for the deep cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated repealing the requirement that people buy health coverage would mean 4 million additional uninsured people by 2019 and 13 million more by 2027.

It "will cause millions to lose their health care and millions more to lose their premiums," Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, angrily insisted when the panel reconvened to work on the tax bill and word came of the Republicans' move on the mandate.

Feeling ambushed without advance notice, minority Democrats exploded in anger.

The completed House tax bill, pointed toward a vote in that chamber Thursday, does not currently include repeal of the health insurance mandate. Trump plans an in-person appeal to House Republicans before the vote.

To win over moderate Senate Republicans to the tax legislation, the Senate may take up at the same time a bipartisan compromise to shore up health care subsidies, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., indicated Tuesday. Thune is a member of the Finance panel.

Hatch's revised version also doubles the child tax credit to $2,000 from the current $1,000 — a change that presidential daughter Ivanka Trump has pushed for. The credit would rise to $1,600 under the House bill.

Also, Hatch's revision makes slight reductions in individual tax rates for three moderate income brackets, numbers three, four and five of a total seven. The rates are reduced from the original Senate bill and the current system. The new rates would be 10, 12, 22.5, 25, 32.5, 35 and 38.5 percent.

The House bill shrinks the current seven brackets to four: 12, 25, 35 and 39.6 percent.

Outside Congress, as word spread of the Senate Republicans' intention, major organizations representing insurers, doctors and hospitals urged lawmakers to keep Obamacare's unpopular requirement that most Americans have health insurance — at least for now.

Ending the "individual mandate" would prompt healthy people to leave the insurance market in droves, driving up premiums, the groups argued in a letter Tuesday to congressional leaders.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tom Cotton of Arkansas had pushed for the repeal in the tax bill just months after GOP efforts to dismantle the 2010 health care law had collapsed in the Senate.

"Repealing the mandate pays for more tax cuts for working families and protects them from being fined by the IRS for not being able to afford insurance that Obamacare made unaffordable in the first place," Cotton said in a statement.

Congressional Republicans projected confidence earlier in the day about delivering the legislation.

"This bill will make things better for hard-working Americans," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters.

House GOP leaders rallied support with the rank-and-file at a closed-door meeting.

Earlier in the Senate panel's work on the bill, the Democrats complained that the bill would enable U.S. corporations with foreign operations and wealthy individuals and families to exploit loopholes to skirt millions in taxes.

On Monday, a nonpartisan analysis of the Senate bill showed it would increase taxes for some 13.8 million moderate-income American households.

Promoted as needed relief for the middle class, the House and Senate bills would deeply cut corporate taxes, double the standard deduction used by most Americans and limit or repeal completely the federal deduction for state and local property, income and sales taxes. Republican leaders in Congress view passage of the first major tax revamp in 30 years as imperative for the GOP to preserve its majorities in next year's elections.

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Associated Press writers Kevin Freking and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

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  • hopesprings52

    This just stuck a fork in tax reform too. Wow, the GOP is really in a self-induced death spiral.

  • Primo Veritas

    Republicans over and over again were defeated, partially by their own people, trying to repeal or even replacing parts of the ACA. Now they are tacking it on as a condition for their tax bill? Is this some kind of ploy to placate Trump while making sure their taxcut bill also dies? Like maybe because they had a wake-up call? Including:

    1. The lowest rating approval for any president in history
    2, Democrat wins in Virginia and New Jersey
    3, Online petitions now with 1.2 million signatures and growing daily, especially that of billionaire Tom Steyer, demanding that Congress impeach Trump
    4. Various celebrities ridiculing Trump and/or calling for his impeachment
    5. 25 Republicans retiring from Congress, running for another office or resigning outright which opens the door for Dems to win vacated seats.

    Of course, I don't know, but if I were a GOP politician with midterm elections looming, I sure would take those things seriously.

  • Robert Eric Oberlies

    It won’t help Republicans get re-elected. It may help some get renominated, but once the impact is felt, they’ll start losing in the coming general elections of ‘18,20,22 et al.
    They’ll lose the fence sitters, independents, and those nominal Republicans who are visibly adversely impacted. They’ll keep their base, who vote based on being “a potential future lottery winner”.

  • Chupacabra

    How about balancing a budget.... anyone?.....

  • PeteyCatwoman

    I am still trying to figure out how all of this is going to justify increasing the national debt by cutting taxes. If I increased by outflow of monies in my home budget but decreased my income, I would be in the hole. Wouldn't I? And now they are adding another caveat by repealing the ACA...again. Who elects these people?

  • Globalblu

    They are trying to push Americans into a major revolt. Who are the terrorists in this country? The rich 1% stealing from the poor and working class, the NRA who want everyone armed for the revolt, and the white right trying to make us like Russia.

  • arriba65

    Which just shows that they are not actually serious about tax reform - they know Obamacare repeal is a deal-killer.

  • Bill William

    Who ever supports this bill needs to be voted out of office. If you do not vote the politicians who support this bill out of office you deserve being s_ _t on.

  • SaveRMiddle

    The recently passed Republican budget reveals their next goal of HUGE slashes/age increases to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid programs. Adding to the national deficit to supply tax cuts to the wealthy is absolutely criminal.

    Their total disregard for the average citizens of this nation is stunning.

  • Betty Bloop

    killing the aca by a thousand cuts is really the most cruel and confusing way to go about accomplishing a change....just the latest indication of their inability to govern effectively

  • Bill William

    Kick millions of people off the Affordable Health Care Act so the ultra rich can get tax cuts. Do Trump supporters approve of this? I'd like to hear what you have to say.

  • Holmes

    So sick Americans get higher premiums to pay for Corporate Tax cuts? Good luck in 2018!

  • BD70

    We are being trolled by the rich. No tax cuts until the Paradise papers are totally reviewed.

  • jeff erickson

    Well of course, republicans will gleefully make life as miserable and as SHORT as possible for anyone not making 8 figures a year. Today's GOP - the TRUE enemy of every working American citizen.

  • Sue Thomason

    Any anti-Trump people out there support repeal of the Obamacare mandate?

  • David_S

    it still amazes me that people can say, with a straight face, that not requiring people to buy insurance is the same as kicking them off of insurance.

  • mik8888

    Congressional Lawmakers continue to lie to themselves, and to us, with these lame attempts to increase their own financial outlook...

  • SaveRMiddle

    "This bill will make things better for hard-working Americans," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters.

    Wisconsin voters - please remove this full blown liar who could give a rip about you and your families.

  • grampazero

    Ok, you're raising my taxes...but I can keep my doctor, right?

  • Kobrakai7272

    And the United States takes another giant leap toward being a Banana Republic. I would submit that the average legislator in the Democratic Republic of Congo is more honest and honorable and has more inclination to serve the best interests of his constituents than any Republican in Congress right now... and that includes the phony baloney maverick from Arizona.

  • Time for a drink

    Greatest President since Reagan if this goes through.

  • tstorm

    Aren't Conservatives wonderful?? The only way they will pass tax reform (which gives tax breaks to billionaires and raises taxes on the middle class) is to take away health care from the people who need it most! There's gotta be a special place in hell for the GOP.

  • C. Gray

    In talking about taxes, people need to remember that taxes are the price we pay for government services. We all benefit from these services, even if we don't use them directly.

    For example, we all benefit from military protection, even if we are not employed by the military or its suppliers. We all benefit from the court system administering the laws, even if we never go to court. There are many other government services, often not well-known.

    Although some benefits do not apply to everybody, everybody does get some benefits, so we all share the costs. It's like sharing the bill at a restaurant - you pay for part of my appetizer, and I pay for part of your dessert.

    The idea that reducing taxes is "allowing you to keep more of your own money" is a mistaken notion. By living in the US, you enter into an agreement with the government, to pay for the services it provides. That money is no longer 'yours'; it is legally owed to the government. You can't eat at a restaurant and then refuse to pay, claiming it's 'your money'. It's not keeping more of your own money, it's making someone else pay more for your services.

    The military alone costs about $3,000 per year for every man, woman, and child. If you pay less than $3,000 per family member, someone else is paying your share. That doesn't even count the other services you receive.

  • John Smith

    The GOP simply has no shame. Including the repeal of Obamacare in a Tax overhaul bill so that they can finance tax cuts to the rich and kick 13 million people off of healthcare? This is called insanity. They will stop at nothing. This group of imbeciles would rather destroy peoples health care and give the money to their corporate friends and rich friends rather than take care of the people in need. This my friends is an atrocity against all the people.

  • Ric M

    So let me get this straight. Appeal Obamacare in order to save billions by not having as many people sign up for it in order to pay for the tax reform that will only help the rich and the corporations. Wow. Middle/lower class isn't being stepped on, they'll be ground into the dirt under the shoes of Corporate America and those bandits inside the Beltway.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Raise taxes for the middle class and take away their health care as well. All in one bill. What's not to like?

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Progress the GOPer way. In the same bill that the cut taxes for ALL the rich while increasing taxes for the middle class, they will also take away health care from millions. Just when you think the GOPers may have finally gotten some sense, they revert back to their absolute worst behavior.

    This probably will not pass but Trump supporters deserve all the bad news headed their way if it does

  • Arkansaw

    All it takes is three no votes to nip that in the bud, and I bet those no votes are there.

    Sorry, Donald, but your tax bill is liable to be sunk by reality.

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    The GOPers are insisting on creating their own definition of stupidity. They couldn't pass the bad ACA repeal before on its own now they want to try to add it to the bad tax cut bill and get it passed that way.

    I guess the one advantage is that we can kill two bad bills with one stone.

  • Chuck

    So Healthcare is doomed so that the wealthy can put their tax breaks in overseas accounts. How American, if you are a Republican or Russian.

  • fmd160

    Trump planning an in-person appeal to lawmakers ahead of a crucial House vote this week.
    Too funny. That hasn't worked for him so far..........

  • Tralfaz Gottrockets

    Middle class tax cut?

    "...analysis by congressional experts showing tax increases in 2019 for 13.8 million households earning less than $200,000 a year. That group, about 10 percent of all U.S. taxpayers, would face tax increases of $100 to $500, and there would be bigger increases for some, especially those earning between $75,000 and $200,000."