Murkowski signals she can support tax bill — if Alexander-Murray is part of package

Murkowski signals she can support tax bill — if Alexander-Murray is part of package
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiRed dresses displayed around American Indian museum to memorialize missing, murdered native women Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (R-Alaska) is signaling she can support the repeal of ObamaCare’s mandate in the Senate tax bill if Congress also passes a bill to stabilize individual health insurance markets.

“I think that there is a path and I think the path is a reasonable path,” Murkowski told Roll Call, highlighting how she could vote for the legislation.

“If the Congress is going to move forward with repeal of the individual mandate, we absolutely must have the Alexander-Murray piece that is passed into law,” she said.

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Murkowksi was referring to legislation crafted by Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderSenate gears up for Green New Deal vote Overnight Health Care — Presented by the American Conservative Union — ObamaCare enrollment dips slightly to 11.4M signups for 2019 | Dem support grows for allowing public funds to pay for abortions | House to hold hearing on surprise medical bills House Dems to hold hearing on preventing surprise medical bills MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care — Presented by the American Conservative Union — ObamaCare enrollment dips slightly to 11.4M signups for 2019 | Dem support grows for allowing public funds to pay for abortions | House to hold hearing on surprise medical bills House Dems to hold hearing on preventing surprise medical bills Overnight Health Care: Senators seek CBO input on preventing surprise medical bills | Oversight panel seeks OxyContin documents | Pharmacy middlemen to testify on prices | Watchdog warns air ambulances can put patients at 'financial risk' MORE (D-Wash.) that would provide two years of funding for key payments to insurers known as cost-sharing reduction subsidies. Their bill would also increase state flexibility and let anyone, regardless of age, buy catastrophic health coverage.

However, on Friday after the Roll Call story published, Murkowski issued a new statement appearing to clarify her earlier remarks. 

“I have consistently said that passing Alexander/Murray is important to stabilizing the individual market and it may be particularly so if the individual mandate is repealed as included in the draft reported by the Senate Finance Committee last night,” Murkowski said in the statement Friday. “However, one should not assume this is a precondition for my support for the tax bill.”

She said she is still considering the tax bill. 

“Like many of my colleagues, I am reviewing the good work of the Finance Committee over the Thanksgiving Holiday,” she said. “I plan to look at the entire package before coming to any conclusion on the legislation.”

Murkowski is one of three GOP senators to vote against a scaled-down version of an ObamaCare repeal bill in late July.

Republicans can only lose two votes in the tax fight and get their bill through the Senate, assuming all Democrats and independents vote against it. Vice President Pence could then break a tie vote. 

But Murkowski in the comments to Roll Call suggested her vote was attainable — as long as the Alexander-Murray bill can move forward.

“There is a path forward. It just means that some who have said some nasty things about [cost-sharing reductions] are maybe just going to have to acknowledge that, well, this might be the way that you thread this needle,” Murkowski said.

She added that she is worried if premiums rise because of the elimination of the mandate, it could wipe out the benefits of tax cuts for many.

“If that tax cut is offset by higher premiums, you haven’t delivered benefit,” she said.

People who don’t buy insurance are currently hit with a penalty for not doing so. This mandate was originally included in ObamaCare as a way to drive healthy and younger people into the markets to help cover the costs of people who are older and sicker.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that repeal of the mandate would lead to 13 million more uninsured Americans by 2027 and that average premiums would increase about 10 percent in most years over the next decade.

Some conservatives have derided the payments as bailouts for insurance companies. The Trump administration had been making the payments — which compensate insurers for lowering the out-of-pocket costs for some ObamaCare enrollees — on a monthly basis, but stopped in October. Insurers have been pleading for certainty that the subsidy will continue.

Murkowski has long been seen as an attainable vote on tax reform, which has been linked to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a top priority for the Alaskan. The panel she chairs, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was instructed in the budget resolution to find $1 billion in revenue to help pay for tax reform. CBO says drilling in refuge would bring in $1 billion, so it could be added into the GOP's tax overhaul to meet that metric. 

The House passed its tax reform bill on a 227-205 vote Thursday. It does not include the insurance mandate’s repeal.

Throughout the week, Democrats slammed Republicans for adding the repeal of the individual mandate into its tax overhaul — and that could cause the Alexander-Murray deal to lose Democratic support.

“Republicans who think they’ll be able jam through a partisan bill that spikes health care premiums and then make it all better by pointing to our bipartisan bill to reduce health costs are either fooling themselves or trying to fool their constituents,” Murray said in a statement Thursday.

“Democrats will hold Republicans accountable for the damage they’re doing every step of the way, and so will people across the country who have clearly had enough of Republicans playing expensive games with their health care — this time, in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and special interests,” she said.

This post was updated at 6:03 p.m.