GOP may add ACA individual mandate repeal to tax plan

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(Bloomberg) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said GOP members are optimistic that including the repeal of the individual mandate imposed by the Obamacare law in a tax overhaul would be “helpful.”

Senate tax writers are considering including the provision in a revised tax proposal that’s set to be released later Tuesday, according to Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas.

“It’s been a subject of discussion,” said Thune, the chamber’s third-ranking Republican leader and a member of the Finance Committee.

The Senate GOP conference discussed adding the repeal of the mandate that all individuals purchase health insurance to the tax proposal during lunch Tuesday. And the Finance Committee discussed the potential inclusion on Monday evening and now wants the full conference to approve the move, said Cornyn.

Making the change would produce an estimated $338 billion in savings over 10 years that would help tax writers meet fiscal targets. Those savings would come from reductions in government spending on health-coverage subsidies for an estimated 13 million Americans who would forgo coverage in 2027, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

Including the repeal would allow the bill to become “as pro growth as possible” and ensure cuts are permanent instead of temporary, Cornyn said.

Reopening the politically painful Obamacare debate could cost the GOP crucial votes on a tax bill. A “skinny” repeal of Obamacare that scrapped the individual mandate failed in July to pass the Senate after defections by John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

McCain said Tuesday he’s leaning toward supporting the Senate GOP tax proposal, but he’ll have to evaluate any attempt to add a repeal of the individual mandate.

Collins said she thought including the mandate repeal would complicate the tax effort and would consider the bill when it comes out of the Senate Finance Committee.

Told Senate Republicans were weighing the idea, Murkowski said tax legislation was “complicated enough.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the move would be tantamount to taking away people’s health care to give big tax cuts to the wealthy -- and predicted it would create problems for the tax effort.

“Thelma and Louise are warming up the car, preparing to drive it over the cliff,” he said.

Republican senators Tim Scott of South Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, members of the Finance Committee, said they would support including the repeal in tax legislation.

Senator Rand Paul also said he’ll push to amend the Senate tax bill to include repeal of the mandate.

“The mandate repeal is a promise we all made and we should keep. It also allows an additional $300 billion+ in tax cuts,” the Kentucky Republican said on Twitter.

Paul said he plans to change the bill to “provide bigger tax cuts for middle income taxpayers.”

Republican leaders aren’t taking Paul’s vote for granted, particularly after he scuttled a last-ditch effort in September to repeal Obamacare, complaining that it didn’t go far enough in slashing the health-care law.

Senator Ted Cruz said Republicans haven’t made a decision on including the mandate repeal in a tax bill, but he supports it as a way to lower middle-class rates and sees a “growing consensus” across the conference to do it.

President Donald Trump has called for repealing the mandate as part of tax legislation, but hasn’t demanded it. House leaders considered adding the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate to their bill before ultimately keeping it out of the legislation.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 160 conservative members, is drafting an amendment that would add the repeal of the individual mandate to the House bill before the floor vote expected for Thursday, according to a lawmaker and an aide who have been briefed on the plan.

The RSC amendment doesn’t include a specific proposal for what to do with the savings, the aide said.

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