No ACA Mandate Repeal In Tax Bill For Now, But It’s A Zombie That May Return

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Republican lawmakers confirmed to TPM Thursday morning, hours before the rollout of the long-awaited GOP tax bill, that contrary to President Trump’s demands, the legislation would not include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate.

But many lawmakers, including the head of the large and influential Republican Study Committee, said despite fears of tanking the entire bill over the controversial health care provision, they still may fight for its inclusion in the weeks to come.

“I do believe there is some discussion, some scuttlebutt on it,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) told reporters Thursday. “I don’t yet know if the RSC will drive that. We’re meeting today to see if it’s worth fighting for.”

Even more vulnerable Republican lawmakers from blue states, like Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), endorsed the idea. “I think this would be a good time,” he told TPM. “It’s being talked about, because [the mandate] is one of the horrendous parts of the ACA.”

“At this moment, I’m not entirely sure if it will be brought forward a little bit later or left off,” he added with a coy smile. “I’m probably out of line saying too much.”

The inclusion of the mandate repeal is attractive to Republican members not only for political messaging—fulfilling at least part of their eight-years-long promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act after repeated failure on that front—but also as a means of paying for the deep tax cuts for corporations that under the current bill draft would cost the government about $1.5 trillion dollars.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, repealing the tax penalty on Americans who go without health insurance would net the government hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years—mainly because millions fewer people would have health insurance and get government subsidies.

Some of those people would be younger and healthier Americans who drop their health insurance voluntarily due to the mandate’s repeal, the CBO found. But skyrocketing premiums for everyone remaining in the market would price out and drive out older and sicker patients, leading to a “death spiral.”

In a study last year, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that repealing the individual mandate would result in the following: “About 2 million fewer people would have employment-based coverage, about 6 million fewer people would obtain nongroup policies (insurance people can purchase directly either in the marketplaces or from insurers outside the marketplaces), and about 7 million fewer people would have coverage under Medicaid. All together, the agencies estimate, 43 million people would be uninsured in 2026.”

Still, the potential budget savings are attractive to lawmakers like Rep. David Brat (R-VA), who told TPM Thursday: “The more we can find the better. That 300 billion pay-for would allow us to lower rates for the middle class even more.”

Brat and his fellow Freedom Caucus Members have vowed to keep pushing for the mandate repeal’s inclusion in the bill, working with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in the Senate.

But many Republicans, including the lead authors of the tax bill and staunch allies of the President, say the inclusion of the mandate repeal would be far too politically dicey.

“What I don’t want to do is to add things that could again kill tax reform like health care died over there,” House Ways and Means Chairman Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), the principal negotiator of the bill, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt earlier this week. “I want to see that individual mandate repealed. I just haven’t seen, no one has seen, 50 votes in the Senate to do it.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.
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