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November 15, 2017

Tax Reform Chess Moves in the Senate

The GOP floats the idea of ending ObamaCare’s mandate in order to comply with Senate rules.

Senate Republicans are working to get their version of a tax reform bill to the full Senate floor this week with the goal of holding a vote after Thanksgiving. Among the more interesting and appealing elements is that Republicans are now floating the idea of repealing the “Affordable” Care Act mandate as part of tax reform (the Supreme Court, after all, ruled that it’s a tax). The Congressional Budget Office estimates repealing the mandate would save the government upwards of $318 billion over the next decade, freeing up that money to offset the estimated revenue lost to tax cuts. That then allows the Senate to comply with its budgetary rules and avoid having the tax bill increase the deficit over the $1.5 trillion threshold, which would have required 60 votes to pass rather than a simple majority. In other words, repealing the ACA mandate would allow Republicans to pass tax reform without needing any Democrat votes. But once again the challenge for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is to get at least 50 Republicans on board, something he failed to do with the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace ObamaCare by itself, let alone with tax cuts.

When the focus was health care and the number of individuals insured, several Senate Republicans balked at the idea of ending the ACA mandate. Now that the focus is tax reform and aiming to save Americans money, suddenly talk of ending the mandate in order to pass tax reform has become more palatable. Was this the plan for Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) the whole time?

Out-of-control spending is why the debt keeps growing. While ending the ObamaCare mandate is a welcome idea that does indeed cut spending on insurance subsidies, it’s essentially being used by Republicans to avoid serious spending cuts elsewhere. And repealing the mandate as a tax does not repeal the ACA’s other regulations, which several have argued could actually lead to even higher health care premiums, eventually creating fertile ground for a de facto single-payer system. Would Republicans and Donald Trump then give in to pressure to bail out insurance companies lest they fail and potentially leave millions of Americans uninsured? Think 2008 and the bank bailout.

Yes, Americans want tax cuts, but they also demand that Republicans enact fiscally responsible change that seriously cuts government spending. By ending the ACA mandate, Republicans would almost have to take up another attempt at fuller repeal. With the recent election losses, Republicans may now be feeling the heat and know they need to come through on their promise to end Barack Obama’s onerous law.

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