Senate Republican leaders are changing their tax bill to include a repeal of a key plank of the Affordable Care Act, a major alteration as they now try to accomplish two of their top domestic priorities in a single piece of legislation.GOP party leaders said Tuesday they would now attach a provision to their tax bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, a part of the health care law that creates penalties for Americans who don’t have health insurance.
“We’re optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday after meeting with party members during a closed-door lunch.
Republicans had up until Tuesday resisted making the change, worried that injecting health care politics would imperil the tax bill. But many of their members have supported adding the repeal, which President Trump has suggested repeatedly.
Repealing the health care provision would free up more than $300 billion in government funding over the next decade, but it would also eventually lead to 13 million fewer people having health insurance, according to projections from the Congressional Budget Office.
Senate Republicans released their tax proposal on Nov. 9, but face some hurdles to reconcile the differences among senators, congressmen and President Trump in order to sign a bill into law. (Jenny Starrs,Jordan Frasier/The Washington Post)
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and a member of the finance committee that is drafting the tax bill, said repealing the individual mandate will allow them to further cut taxes for middle-income families.
“It’ll be distributed in the form of middle-income tax relief,” Thune said. “It will give us even more of an opportunity to really distribute the relief to those middle-income cohorts who could really benefit from it.”
But the change could unnerve less conservative Republican senators, who voted against previous Senate efforts to repeal large parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
In addition to repealing the individual mandate, the updated tax bill could also likely include a new bipartisan health care agreement recently reached by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Patty Murray (D-Wash), according to Republican Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
That Murray-Alexander agreement would fund federal subsidies used to help lower-income Americans afford their health care.
The push for the change came after repeated demands from Trump, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark).
Earlier Tuesday, Paul said he would introduce an amendment to the tax bill that would repeal the individual mandate and use the savings to lower taxes for middle class families. The tax bills in the House and Senate would lower taxes for many Americans, but nonpartisan analysts have concluded millions would pay higher taxes, particularly if they lived in states such as New York, New Jersey, and California.
But he might not need to propose an amendment not that GOP leaders have largely agreed to make the change. The bill could not be amended during debate this week in the Senate Finance Committee.
Trump has called for the adding a repeal of the individual mandate into the tax cut bill, though he has said the savings should go toward lowering the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans.
Republicans spent much of the first eight months of 2011 trying to repeal or roll back the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. But they were repeatedly stymied by GOP defections in the Senate, with a handful of Republicans saying they wanted the changes to be either more sweeping or done in a bipartisan way.
Republicans control just 52 votes of the 100-seat Senate, and so the defection of three members would imperil any changes to the bill. They are trying to pass the tax cut bill through a process known as reconciliation, which means they only need a majority of support to pass the bill.
House GOP leaders have said they would explore whether to include a repeal of the individual mandate in their version of the tax cut bill, but they have so far not made that change. They are hoping to vote on their version of the measure as soon as Thursday.
The House and Senate must pass matching versions of the tax cut bill in order for Trump to be able to sign them into law.
The Senate Finance Committee is debating their version of the tax bill this week, and Republicans hope to approve it within days.
Republicans are hopeful they can pass the tax cut bill by early December, when they have a number of other issues they need to resolve and face the prospect of losing a Senate seat because of the special election in Alabama.
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