ACA mandate repeal likely to be included in Senate tax bill

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The Senate tax-writing committee continues hammering out the details of its tax cut proposal on Tuesday, while the House may vote on its bill as soon as Thursday.

The Senate version of the bill is expected to be released late Tuesday afternoon. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said his “modified mark” will be given to lawmakers “later today.” Members of the panel will be given time to review the changes and weigh in on them during tomorrow’s hearing, according to Hatch.

Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 3 Republican, said the repeal of the individual mandate required by Obamacare will be included in the revised version of the Senate GOP tax plan.

House Majority Whip John Cornyn is confident the chamber will get the 50 votes it needs to pass a bill, according to Thune. “We wouldn’t have proceeded if Cornyn wasn’t confident he could get to 50,” Thune said.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee objected to an emerging Republican plan to add the repeal of the Obamacare law’s individual mandate to tax overhaul legislation.

The Finance panel’s hearing briefly grew heated as Senator Ron Wyden, the panel’s top Democrat, suggested that it was improper to consider the measure. He asked that the committee recess until Wednesday -- and Chairman Orrin Hatch agreed.

“We’ve had it for the day,” Wyden said. “Expect us to be back tomorrow with a lot of questions.”

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 were considering including the provision in the revised tax proposal, according to Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Majority Whip John Cornyn.

“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.

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 healthcare to give big tax cuts to the wealthy, and predicted it would create problems for the tax effort.

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.

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 healthcare 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.

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.

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