Republicans are adding repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the latest version of their tax bill, according to several GOP senators, with several key swing votes saying they’re open to the idea.
Finance Committee Republicans decided to include repeal language in the package. The legislation was discussed at a closed-door party lunch meeting Tuesday and several Republican senators said no one spoke out publicly against repealing the mandate.
John Thune (R-S.D.) said adding mandate repeal could allow Republicans to include more middle-class tax relief in the tax bill, and that he was confident it could pass the Senate. The GOP views repealing the mandate as both a down payment on its campaign pledge to undo Obamacare and a source of revenue: Repeal would generate $338 billion to help pay for tax reform.
“It’s been whipped,” said Thune, a member of GOP leadership, adding it’s an idea that “we’ve looking at for some time as a potential solution for some of the challenges that we’re facing in trying to make the bill do the things we’re trying to accomplish.”
President Donald Trump has been urging congressional Republicans to include mandate repeal in the tax package.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans are "optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful” to enacting tax reform but did not confirm it would be in the final plan.
John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of three GOP senators who voted down the Obamacare repeal effort this summer, said repealing the mandate is not a deal-breaker for securing his vote.
“I want to see the whole package — it keeps changing as it goes through the House and Senate,” McCain said. “I want the regular order.”
Repealing the requirement most Americans have insurance would have an effect on the health insurance markets, although not as big of one as health economists once predicted. The CBO said this week that repeal would result in 4 million people losing their health insurance in the first year and 13 million in a decade.
Several Republicans said they hope to pass a separate bill to fund Obamacare’s cost-sharing program to shore up the insurance markets, to make up for some of the negative effects on coverage that mandate repeal would deliver. Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray have released a bill that would fund the program.
Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is expected to release a new version of the Senate tax bill as soon as Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ve never been enthused about the mandate,” Hatch told POLITICO on his way into the meeting without elaborating on whether repeal would be in the bill.
Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, both of whom have announced that they won’t seek reelection next year, separately said they would support repealing the mandate if it helps get the tax bill done.
“I’m fine with it,” Corker said. “I would hope that if we do and there is real money there, that we use it as a buffer against any deficit in the first 10 years.”
Susan Collins of Maine, who opposed Obamacare repeal this summer, said combining the two issues could make tax reform more difficult.
“My concern is that if we combine the health care issues with tax reform, we make it far more controversial," she said.
Rand Paul of Kentucky said Tuesday that he would introduce an amendment on the Senate floor to undermine the mandate.
Because of arcane Senate rules, Republicans cannot technically repeal the mandate. Instead, they would change the fines to $0, which would have the same effect as repeal.
The House did not include repeal of the mandate in its bill, which is slated to get a vote later this week.
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.