House conservatives want the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate included in tax legislation, but some are shying away from saying that inclusion is critical to their support.
The comments come as the House’s chief tax writer Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said Friday that he is considering including repeal in the bill, which currently doesn’t contain it.
“That’s icing on the cake,” said Rep. David Brat, R-Va. “I would push everything that is pro-growth,” he added. Repealing the individual mandate, which requires everybody to have insurance or pay a penalty, would give the government more than $400 billion in new revenue to work with.
But Brat, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker if the final bill doesn’t include the repeal.
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., also supports adding the repeal to tax reform.
“I’m gonna push any time I can to get rid of the individual and employer mandates,” he said.
While Yoho said he wants repeal included, it's not a dealbreaker for him if it's not in the final bill.
“More than likely no, but I would have to see the language before I would answer that,” he said.
The House Freedom Caucus, a group of two dozen conservative Republicans, hasn’t taken an official position on the issue.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters Friday that he is pushing for inclusion, but “I don’t know if the Freedom Caucus is pushing it. We have not had a discussion as a caucus and we won’t until Monday night when we get back.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a co-chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said including repeal was a “good idea.”
The House's Republican leaders may not have an appetite to add the repeal to the tax bill, even though it would give Republicans extra money to work with to help pay down tax cuts.
Repealing the individual mandate would reduce the deficit by $460 billion over a decade but 15 million fewer people would get insurance, according to a December estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Brady said this week he didn’t want healthcare to be a distraction in passing the overhaul of the tax code.
But that interview occurred before President Trump tweeted Wednesday that the bill should include repeal of the “very unfair and unpopular individual mandate.”
On Friday, Brady said he is considering the idea and added that Trump has personally lobbied for the inclusion. But Brady shared his doubts about adding the repeal to tax reform, a major priority for a party still seeking a signature legislative achievement this year.
“There are pros and cons to this, importing healthcare into a tax reform debate has consequences,” he said. “Especially when the Senate has failed to do anything on healthcare.”
That was a reference to the Senate’s failure to pass Obamacare repeal this summer, a sore spot among House Republicans who passed their own repeal bill in May.
Congress is using reconciliation, the procedural tool it used for healthcare legislation, to try to push through the tax bill. Reconciliation allows a bill to be approved in the Senate with only 51 votes instead of 60 needed to stop a filibuster. A reconciliation bill must meet several rules, including reducing the deficit and other instructions.
A reconciliation bill must originate in the House, which is why the House took the lead on Obamacare repeal and is doing so again on tax reform.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which Brady heads, will hold a markup of the tax bill Monday.
Even if the House does not include repealing the individual mandate in its legislation, it still could wind up in the final package.
The Senate is drafting its own tax reform package in the Senate Finance Committee. Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently told reporters that the repeal is one of the policies the committee is considering. Members such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have been openly pushing the idea.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of Senate GOP leadership who sits on the Finance committee, said he doubted that the bill would include repeal. However, he didn’t rule it out as some members have been asking for it.