WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are intent on scrapping the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that Americans get health insurance, targeting a repeal of the individual mandate to help finance deep tax cuts in their tax overhaul.
The surprise renewal Tuesday of the failed effort to scrap the law’s mandate came a day after President Donald Trump renewed pressure on GOP lawmakers to include the repeal in their tax legislation. It has sharp 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.
Republican efforts to dismantle the 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 also 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.
“We are optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful; that’s obviously the view of the Senate Finance Committee Republicans,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters.
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. Targeting 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 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 and millions more to lose their premiums,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, angrily insisted when the panel reconvened to work on the tax bill and word came of the Republicans’ move on the mandate.