Se­nate GOP in­tent on scrap­ping health man­date in tax bill

Texarkana Gazette - - NATION/WORLD -

WASHINGTON—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.

The sur­prise re­newal Tues­day 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.

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.

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.

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