Cruz pushes to include repeal of Obamacare mandate in tax bill

GOP leaders say it could reduce subsidy spending to offset tax rate cuts in the tax plan.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is pushing to keep alive the idea of including a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in the tax overhaul plan, even as House Republicans struggle with how to address an issue that threatens to complicate the tax debate.

At a news conference Tuesday, Cruz said it’s vital to use the tax legislation to end the mandate that all Americans have health insurance or pay a penalty. If nothing else, he said, doing so will in effect be a tax cut for the 6.5 million Americans who now pay a penalty because they don’t have health insurance coverage.

“I think it’s critical to make this end,” he said of the mandate.

House Speaker Paul Ryan told “ Fox News Sunday” that the GOP was considering adding the mandate’s repeal to the bill. Repealing the mandate would raise the number of people who are uninsured and not covered by Obamacare, thus cutting federal spending on subsidies for insurance coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Republicans have some incentive to reduce subsidy spending, because doing so is estimated to raise $416 billion over a decade, which could be used to offset tax-rate cuts.

Yet adding the matter into the tax debate could be combustible just a couple of months after a drive to replace the Affordable Care Act blew up in the Senate.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said at a meeting of the panel on Monday that he didn’t plan to include a repeal of the Obamacare mandate in his version of the bill. However, this morning he told talk radio host Hugh Hewitt that GOP leaders in the debate are listening to other lawmakers about it and that it’s still on the table.

Asked about the president’s position on repealing the mandate as she stood near Cruz Tuesday morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said that “we respect the fact that the process is ongoing.” She added that it’s time for lawmakers to weigh in on the policies that will be in the tax bill.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted there is solid early momentum toward a broad tax plan.

“Nothing is more important to the president’s economic agenda than tax reform and tax cuts,” Mnuchin said. He added that the administration “couldn’t be more excited about where we are,” and that Congress appears likely to send President Donald Trump a final package by year’s end.

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