- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Republican leaders say they’re open to including a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate in their tax reform effort, hoping to appease conservatives, but won’t consider other health-related items.

Conservatives in both the House and Senate say repealing the mandate to obtain health insurance would save between $300 billion and $400 billion that could be used to lower other tax rates.

They also say it would give Republicans another shot to follow through on fulfilling their years-long campaign promises on health care, after GOP lawmakers failed multiple times to repeal and replace Obamacare this year.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady on Tuesday said he’s asked congressional scorekeepers for an update on how much money repealing the mandate would save the government, and that he’s listening to members’ concerns on the issue.

“I’ve been asked to consider it. We are doing exactly that,” Mr. Brady told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

It appeared to be a bit of a shift for the Texas Republican, who had previously said he didn’t think it would be in the bill his committee began marking up this week, arguing that adding health care-related items into the tax mix could complicate the bill’s prospects for passage, and that he would tackle them immediately after tax reform.

But conservatives are pushing for a repeal of the individual mandate, which the Congressional Budget Office has estimated would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars over 10 years. Conservatives say that money could be used to cut tax rates even more.

“Since we’re looking for pay-fors, and we’ve got a $300 billion pay-for that’s consistent with what most Republicans have campaigned on, including it in tax reform certainly would seem prudent,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the influential conservative House Freedom Caucus.

But Obamacare defenders say killing the mandate that everyone purchase health insurance could undercut the law’s state-based exchanges and leave an additional 15 million Americans without health coverage.

As it stands, Republicans’ plan to slash corporate and individual tax rates and scrub the code of various loopholes and deductions would increase deficits by about $1.5 trillion over a decade.

If the package adds to the federal debt beyond 10 years, it could run afoul of Senate rules, leaving lawmakers looking for more ways to offset some of those costs or face the prospect of a Democratic filibuster.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, said he’d favor including the individual mandate repeal in the tax reform package, though he said it’s his understanding that leadership has set the idea aside for the time being.

“But I do believe there’s a lot of support within the conference for that,” Mr. Griffith said in a brief interview Tuesday.

The idea is also gaining support among some Senate Republicans, though Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch has echoed Mr. Brady in saying it could complicate things.

At least four GOP senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Steve Daines of Montana, and Ted Cruz of Texas — have said they want to see it happen. President Trump tweeted his support for the idea last week.

“I think there is a path forward, that actually the president laid out last week, which is repealing the individual mandate, the IRS tax from Obamacare,” Mr. Cruz said Tuesday at a Capitol Hill tax event with GOP senators and administration officials.

Some members, though, were more hesitant, echoing Mr. Brady’s fears that inserting such a heated subject into the discussion could complicate the tax overhaul.

Rep. Tom MacArthur, New Jersey Republican, said Tuesday he’s “cautiously open” to talking about it more.

“I hate to see us bring the politics of health care into tax reform,” he told The Washington Times. “I don’t see a lot of momentum. Look, if it came in, I would take a real look at it. I’m certainly open to it, but I just think it does complicate things.”

Mr. MacArthur has been pushing for his own changes that he acknowledged could increase the overall price tag of the bill, as House GOP leaders try to meet various demands within their conference ahead of an expected floor vote next week.

He said he can support a proposed $10,000 cap on a local property tax deduction, but that he’d like to see the mortgage interest deduction raised to $750,000, indexed for inflation, and allowed for second homes.

“I think raising the cap is going to be very expensive and I don’t know they have the space to do that,” he said, also saying they could delay indexing to save on cost.

The House Republican plan reduces the mortgage interest deduction, currently capped at $1 million, to $500,000 for new purchases.

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