The Senate tax bill, as it stands now, includes a repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate. But Senator Susan Collins has indicated she would not support a tax bill that includes repeal, posing a dilemma for the White House. It can only afford to lose one more GOP vote in the Senate or the measure will go down to defeat due to the stated opposition of Senator Rob Johnson.
So it’s not surprising that two of Donald Trump’s top economic advisors would send mixed signals on repeal of the mandate. On the one hand, Trump needs Collins’ vote badly. On the other hand, repealing the mandate would be very popular with the GOP rank and file. Also, no senator is likely to vote against the bill solely because the repeal of the mandate is not included.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says that Trump supports repeal.
“The president thinks we should get rid of it. I think we should get rid of it,” Mnuchin said. “It’s an unfair tax on poor people. To think that you put a penalty on people who can’t afford to buy medical policies, it’s just fundamentally unfair.”
He added: “But we’re going to work with the Senate as we go through this.”
On the other hand, Budget Director Mike Mulvaney says the president is very happy with the House bill, which does not include mandate repeal:
Budget director Mick Mulvaney said the White House is open to scrapping the provision, which would repeal a key component of the Affordable Care Act health care law enacted by President Barack Obama. Trump has pressed for the provision to be added to the bill, partly to show progress on undoing the health care law. Congress fell short during previous attempts earlier this year to repeal the overall health care law.
“I don’t think anybody doubts where the White House is on repealing and replacing Obamacare. We absolutely want to do it,” Mulvaney said. “If we can repeal part of Obamacare as part of a tax bill and have a tax bill that is still a good tax bill that can pass, that’s great.
“If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we’re OK with taking it out,” Mulvaney added.
Legislative director Marc Short said the White House “is very comfortable with the House bill,” which does not include what’s known as the “individual mandate.” But Short said the White House views the individual mandate as a tax and “we like the fact that the Senate has included it in its bill.”
In addition to Collins, Senators Corker, Flake, McCain, and Paul have not indicated whether they will support the tax bill or not. The history between Trump and all of those senators has been marked by name calling and bitter denunciations, leaving open the real possibility that any two of those senators would take some satisfaction in blowing up the Senate tax bill.
But would they go so far as to blow up the Republican Party as well?
Current thinking on the Hill is that a failure to pass tax reform legislation would doom the GOP at the polls next year. This is not just the opinion of pundits and commentators, but of the politicians themselves.
Both Corker and Flake are retiring next year, while McCain is suffering from brain cancer and will probably not run again in 2020. If any senators are not going to care if the GOP is destroyed at the polls because of a failure to pass a tax bill, it’s those three.
So Collins’ vote becomes crucial. The individual mandate repeal would be nice to have, but in the end, it will probably be left out to accommodate Collins. The other potential “no” votes will probably also look for a deal, making passage a little more certain if they can be satisfied.