GOP unlikely to repeal ObamaCare mandate in tax measure

GOP unlikely to repeal ObamaCare mandate in tax measure
© Greg Nash

The House is unlikely to repeal the mandate to buy insurance under ObamaCare as part of its tax-reform bill, GOP sources say, though the issue could return down the road.

President Trump and conservative lawmakers are pushing for the individual mandate to be repealed in the bill, but House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference Overnight Finance: GOP delays work on funding bill amid conservative demands | Senate panel approves Fed nominee Powell | Dodd-Frank rollback advances | WH disputes report Mueller subpoenaed Trump bank records MORE (R-Texas) has expressed worry that the controversial measure would jeopardize the broader tax-reform bill, given the Senate’s failure on health care earlier this year.

“It hasn’t ever been in the [House] bill,” said one Republican on the Ways and Means Committee who has been taking part in the negotiations. “I expect that it will be added somewhere down the sausage-making venture.”

“I agree there is a chance, but I think if it gets included, it would be on the Senate side,” added a second Ways and Means Republican.

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Senate GOP leaders said they plan to roll out their own tax bill on Thursday. Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Grassley offers DACA fix tied to tough enforcement measures Five things senators should ask Tom Cotton if he’s nominated to lead the CIA MORE (Ark.) has been the leading GOP senator pushing to include repeal of the mandate in the tax bill.

House leaders emerging from a meeting Monday evening said no final decision has been made on the individual mandate issue, and Brady and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.) both said in interviews in recent days that they have not ruled out the idea.

“We have an active conversation with our members on a whole host of ideas on things to add to this bill and that’s one of the things being discussed,” Ryan said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

But Brady expressed concerns about including the mandate’s repeal at an event last week.

“There are pros and cons to this,” Brady said at an event Friday hosted by Politico. “Importing health care into a tax-reform debate has consequences.”

If Congress doesn’t act, Trump has vowed that he will. The president is reportedly considering taking executive action on the insurance mandate if Congress leaves it out of the tax-reform bill.

A lobbyist told The Hill the administration is working on guidance, which might not be in the form of an executive order, that would expand what are known as “hardship exemptions” that allow people to be exempted from the mandate’s requirement to have health insurance or pay a fine.

Brady said Monday that repeal of certain ObamaCare taxes would not be included in tax reform. Instead, he said he is working with Democrats on temporary relief from measures like the medical device tax and health insurance tax. 

 “We are working on common-sense temporary and targeted relief from many of these taxes to be acted on in the House before the end of the year,” Brady said.

Repealing the mandate could destabilize health insurance markets, experts warn, by removing an incentive for healthy people to enroll. The Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated that repealing the mandate would increase premiums by 20 percent.

Trump has been pushing to repeal the mandate in the tax-reform bill. Brady said last week that Trump had asked for it twice on the phone and once in person. Trump also told a meeting of Republican lawmakers at the White House last week that he wanted to repeal the mandate in tax reform and floated adding it in the Senate, attendees said.

Two conservative leaders, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.), have been pushing leadership to repeal the mandate in the tax bill. Walker has been slightly more aggressive, calling it a “good move.”

“When given the opportunity to actually address even part of an ObamaCare repeal with a simple majority, our leadership consistently finds excuses to justify their failure,” said a conservative House lawmaker who favors adding repeal to the bill.

“The individual mandate will be repealed by the president while Congress makes excuses.”

A number of lawmakers — both on and off the Ways and Means panel — are predicting the tax legislation Brady unveiled last week would attract the 218 GOP votes needed for passage.

While a handful of vocal New York and New Jersey Republicans are objecting to a provision of the bill that scraps or limits state and local tax deductions, most moderate Republicans have signaled they will go along with the legislation rather than derail one of the GOP’s top campaign promises of the 2016 elections.

So there is a reluctance among GOP vote-counters to add the insurance provision and upset that fragile balance.

“I believe it’s going to be a very strong vote based on my interactions with members and their passion to reform the tax code,” Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who serves on both the Ways and Means Committee and Ryan’s leadership team, said of the current version of the bill.

“Anything above 218 is good.”