Tierney Sneed and Caitlin MacNeal contributed reporting.
Key senators from the far-right and more centrist wings of the Senate GOP conference indicated their openness Thursday to keeping some of Obamacare’s taxes in their health care bill in order to fund more generous support for lower income people purchasing health insurance.
“There is interest among a number of our members on that issue,” confirmed Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the GOP leadership team. “I’ve been open all along, if that takes that to get consensus. But obviously, we’d like to get rid of all the taxes, because taxes were raised in order to pay for Obamacare, and we’re repealing Obamacare. But if it takes something like that to get our members on board and move this process forward, we have to consider that.”
“I think people are taking a look at it,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) added, noting that their original version had somewhat of a revenue problem. “From my standpoint, if you maintain $443 billion in Obamacare subsidies, you have to think about how you pay for them.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) further confirmed to reporters Thursday that Senate Republicans are considering keeping the Affordable Care Act’s 3.8 percent investment tax.
“I know a number of people mentioned it and I even think the President alluded to it the other day in the meeting,” he said, adding that he was open to the idea as well. “I’ve never ruled that out,” he said, later clarifying: “But only if it’s part of a plan that works and not just growing government for revenue purposes.”
The moderate senators who balked at the draft health care bill released last week have complained that the legislation does not provide enough support for low income people, who stand to be most burdened by how the legislation rolls back Medicaid expansion and reworks the ACA’s tax credit scheme.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of the most sought-after holdouts, was asked Wednesday about the bill’s tax cuts for the wealthy paired with spending cuts for the poor. “I don’t like the way that things are split,” she said.
That, said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), is why Republicans are considering bucking their party orthodoxy and keeping the taxes they have railed against for years. Corker told reporters they could then use the savings “to beef up the ability of low-income citizens to purchase health care, which has to happen.”
“The way the first draft came out, a low-income citizen making 12-grand a year might get a $300 subsidy to purchase a plan with a $6,000 deductible. You know, that’s not really a health plan that allows their daily needs to be dealt with,” he admitted, saying such a model was “not worthy of becoming law.”
“We’re moving to a place to resolve that issue,” Corker said.
Another supporter of keeping the tax in place, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), told reporters Wednesday that he has urged his colleagues to consider changing the bill to add in support for “individuals that might by unduly affected by the changes we’re proposing.”
“That’s about $172 billion taxes that would then continue to be collected,” he said. “If we did that, we could then utilize that money to offset some of the areas people have expressed concern.”
Should this change be adopted, however, leadership risks losing the votes of Republican hardliners like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Cruz told reporters Thursday that he opposed keeping the ACA’s taxes, but refused to say whether that would be a deal breaker for him if included in a final bill.
Senate Republicans can only lose two GOP votes.