Obama tax hikes may help pass Republican health bill
Washington — Senate Republican leaders considered keeping one of former President Barack Obama’s big tax increases on wealthier Americans and using the money to fatten proposed subsidies for the poor in a bid Thursday to placate moderate GOP lawmakers and salvage their struggling health care bill.
With a core priority tottering, top Republicans also assessed an amendment pushed by conservatives to let insurers offer plans with low premiums and scant benefits. To do so, a company would also have to sell a policy that abides by the consumerfriendly coverage requirements in Obama’s 2010 statute, which the GOP is struggling to repeal.
Both proposals were encountering internal Republican opposition, and it was uncertain either would survive. But the effort underscored how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., needed to mollify both wings of his divided party if he’s to rescue one of his and President Donald Trump’s foremost campaign promises.
By Friday, McConnell wants to add changes to the bill that would assure its pas- sage after Congress’ July 4 recess. For him to prevail, no more than two of the 52 GOP senators can oppose the measure.
But as senators charged out the Capitol’s doors Thursday to begin their break, there were no overt indications that GOP leaders had resolved their problems.
“We’re kind of at a stalemate right now, I’d say,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., who with Ohio GOP Sen. Robert Portman and others want to forestall reductions the measure would make in Medicaid.
The Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people has grown dramatically in their states and others, but the Republican bill would cut it, with reductions growing over time.
The Senate bill would repeal most of the tax boosts Obama levied, around $700 billion over the coming decade. They were aimed largely at high earners and the medical industry and helped finance his expansion of coverage to about 20 million people.
Under a proposal by Sen. Bob Corker, RTenn., the bill would retain Obama’s 3.8 percent tax increase on investments by higher earners. Keeping that increase would save $172 billion over 10 years, and moderates want to use it to make the health care sub- sidies their bill would provide more generous.
Democrats say the GOP bill is mostly a tax cut for the rich. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the Senate measure would raise out-of-pocket health care costs for many low earners while producing 22 million more uninsured people by 2026.
Corker said cutting upper-income taxes and increasing health care costs for the poor “is not an equation that works.”
“Obviously we’d like to get rid of all” of Obama’s tax boosts, said No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota. “But if it takes something like that to get our members on board to move this process forward, I think we have to consider that.”
Conservatives said they opposed the idea, along with the chairmen of Congress’ two tax-writing committees: Senate Finance chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
Obama’s health law enacted an additional 3.8 percent tax on investment income for married couples making more than $250,000 a year and individuals making more than $125,000.
A group of protesters rally against the Senate Republican health care bill Wednesday on the East Front of the Capitol Building in Washington.