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Obama health mandate now target of GOP in big tax bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama health care law’s requirement that Americans get insurance coverage is now pinned as a target of Republican lawmakers, as they look to end the individual mandate to help pay for deep cuts in their tax legislation.

Senate Republicans showed Tuesday they’re intent on scrapping the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate, and the idea was endorsed by scores of GOP lawmakers in the House.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Finance Committee, confirmed late Tuesday he was revising the bill to include repeal of the insurance mandate “to help provide additional relief to low- and middle-income families.”

The surprise renewal of the failed effort to eliminate the health care law’s mandate came a day after President Donald Trump renewed pressure on Republican lawmakers to include the repeal in their sweeping legislation to revamp the tax system. It carries high political stakes for Trump, who lacks a major legislative achievement after nearly 10 months in office.

The move by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee upended the debate over the tax measure just as it was inching closer to passage following months of fine-tuning and compromise. It turned the debate into an angry partisan referendum on health care and President Barack Obama’s signature law, the Affordable Care Act.

The Finance panel digs into a third day of work on the Senate tax bill on Wednesday. The completed House tax bill, pointed toward a vote in that chamber Thursday, does not currently include repeal of the health insurance mandate. Trump plans an in-person appeal to House Republicans before the vote.

Promoted as needed relief for the middle class, the House and Senate tax overhaul bills would deeply cut corporate rates, double the standard deduction used by most Americans and limit or repeal completely the federal deduction for state and local property, income and sales taxes. Republican leaders deem passage of the first major tax overhaul in 30 years as imperative for the GOP to preserve its majorities in next year’s elections.

Republican efforts to dismantle the health care law collapsed this past summer as moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in rejecting the repeal — a bitter disappointment for Trump, who lashed out at the Senate GOP for failing. Adding the repeal of the mandate to the tax measure would combine two of Trump’s legislative priorities.

Beyond Trump’s prodding, the repeal move was dictated by the Republicans’ need to find revenue sources for the massive tax-cut bill, which calls for steep reductions in the corporate tax rate and elimination of some popular tax breaks.

The “Obamacare” mandate requires most people to buy health insurance coverage or face a fine. Without being forced to get coverage, fewer people would sign up for Medicaid or buy federally subsidized private insurance. Eliminating the mandate in the tax legislation would save an estimated $338 billion over a decade, which could be used to help pay for the deep cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the requirement that people buy health coverage would mean 4 million additional uninsured people by 2019 and 13 million more by 2027.

It “will cause millions to lose their health care,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee.

Feeling ambushed without advance notice, minority Democrats warned that with fewer healthy people in the insurance risk pool, the price of premiums would rise.

“Rather than learning the lessons from their failure to repeal health care, Republicans are doubling down on the same partisan strategy that would throw our health care system into chaos,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “If the American people weren’t already outraged by this bill, injecting health care into it will certainly do the trick.”

To win over moderate Senate Republicans to the tax legislation, the Senate may take up at the same time a bipartisan compromise to shore up health care subsidies, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., indicated Tuesday. Thune is a member of the Finance panel.

Hatch’s revised version of the tax bill would double the child tax credit to $2,000 from the current $1,000 — a change that presidential daughter Ivanka Trump has pushed for. The credit would rise to $1,600 under the House bill.

Also, Hatch’s revision makes slight reductions in individual tax rates for three moderate income brackets, numbers three, four and five of a total seven. The rates are reduced from the original Senate bill and the current system. The new rates are 10, 12, 22.5, 25, 32.5, 35 and 38.5 percent. The House bill shrinks the current seven brackets to four: 12, 25, 35 and 39.6 percent.

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