Affordable Care Act mandate faces repeal in new tax bill

Republican lawmakers are discussing whether their tax plan should include a repeal of the Obama health law's requirement that people have insurance coverage or face a penalty. House GOP hopes to revamp the nation's tax code into legislation by Thanksgiving. 

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, walks on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 3, 2017. House Republicans on Nov. 6, kick off four days of work transforming their 429-page proposal to revamp the nation’s tax code into legislation they optimistically hope to complete by Thanksgiving.

Republicans are weighing a repeal of a key tenet of the Obama-era health care law in their tax overhaul as the House's tax-writing committee begins work on shaping the bill.

Speaker Paul Ryan said Sunday Republicans are discussing whether their tax plan should include a repeal of the Obama health law's requirement that people have insurance coverage or face a penalty, a step pushed by President Trump but seen by some GOP lawmakers as possibly imperiling a much-needed legislative victory.

It would be another shot at further undermining the Affordable Care Act after repeated failures by the GOP-led Congress to repeal and replace the law. That is a step Mr. Trump has demanded and Republicans promised would happen after President Barack Obama left office and Republicans won the presidency and have control of Congress.

The House Ways and Means Committee begins work on the tax rewrite Monday, with the goal of full House action before Thanksgiving. The committee chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady (R) of Texas, has said that including a repeal of the health law's individual mandate would be politically problematic, given that the Senate has failed to pass health legislation in Trump's first year.

Mr. Ryan told "Fox News Sunday" that "a lot of members are suggesting" that the House include the repeal, though he did not weigh in personally on how to deal with the coverage mandate.

Equally as evasive was the second-ranking House GOP leader: "Well, I know people are talking about it," Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R) of California, said on CBS' "Face the Nation." He added: "Look, my focus is on tax. As the individual mandate goes, I would not be opposed to that. But I want to see this bill go forward."

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the individual mandate would save $416 billion over a decade. That's because without it, fewer people would enroll in Medicaid or buy federally subsidized coverage on insurance exchanges. The money represents a tempting revenue source for GOP tax writers whose plan for extensive tax cuts would add an estimated $1.5 trillion to the nation's debt over 10 years.

Republicans are likely to make changes to the measure to ease opposition among some GOP lawmakers as the Ways and Means Committee takes up the plan. Some want to broaden tax relief to include more small businesses, while others are upset at a provision eliminating a tax credit for adoption expenses.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R) of North Carolina, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said that revenue counted through the repeal could be used to enhance various tax credits and deductions popular with constituents.

For example, the GOP proposal eliminates the deduction for state and local income taxes, and caps the deduction for state and local property taxes at $10,000. Some lawmakers from New York and New Jersey oppose the change. Rep. Meadows said the money gained through repealing the health coverage mandate could be used to "adjust that state and local tax issue."

The tax proposal is the first major rewrite of the United States tax code in three decades, mixing sharp tax cuts for corporations and businesses with more modest relief for individuals. An inflation change to tax brackets announced on Friday reduced the tax cut to individuals by $89 billion over 10 years.

The measure is enthusiastically backed by Trump, House GOP leaders, and many rank-and-file Republicans, who are promising a simpler IRS code, a more globally competitive business tax structure, and tax cuts for the middle class and families with children.

But there's considerable trepidation as well. Many earners in the upper middle class, especially those from high-tax states, are facing tax increases.

In examining the GOP's tax bill, Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation projected that the expiration of certain tax breaks would result in tax increases for some income groups in some years.

An analysis from the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the committee's projections showed the tax cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest households. Meanwhile, the joint committee's analysis indicated that tax filers with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 would pay higher individual income taxes in 2023 and each year thereafter, as would filers with incomes between $200,000 and $500,000.

"They give with one hand and take away with the other," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California.

The bill would telescope today's seven personal income tax brackets into four: 12 percent, 25 percent, 35 percent and 39.6 percent. The 25 percent rate would start at $45,000 for individuals and $90,000 for married couples.

The standard deduction – used by people who don't itemize, around two-thirds of taxpayers – would nearly double to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for couples. That's expected to encourage even more people to use the standard deduction with a simplified tax form Republicans say will be postcard-sized.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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