A relatively tame fight to overhaul the U.S. tax code just got more cagey after Republicans added a provision to scrap a key part of Obamacare, a move that put the same liberal activists who fought against the GOP’s efforts to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act back on alert.
“It’s not a tax bill anymore. It’s a health care bill,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Late Tuesday night, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee added to the bill a provision that would repeal the individual mandate under Obamacare. It’s something Republicans generally support—and GOP leaders expect that adding this so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare to the bill won’t hurt its chances. But the decision to include the repeal mechanism could seriously jeopardize both the tax bill as well as bipartisan legislation to stabilize the Obamacare markets.
Previous efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were met with fierce and near constant opposition over the summer with images of wheelchair-bound activists being hauled out of congressional offices serving as a lightning rod for protests. In July alone, at least 1,000 activists across the nation flooded the local offices of Republican senators pleading that they not dismantle Obamacare.
Now activists and Democrats on Capitol Hill alike are digging in their heels once again, preparing local demonstrations at district offices, thousands of phone calls and days of action.
“The last thing we should be doing is providing tax breaks for billionaires paid for by throwing millions of Americans off of health insurance and raising premiums on middle class Americans,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) told The Daily Beast.
“Anyone who cares about health care in America now has a reason to fight against the Republican tax plan,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declared in a video Tuesday night.
Repealing the individual mandate would result in 13 million more Americans uninsured by the year 2027, the Congressional Budget office said. But scrapping the mandate would also save $338 billion over 10 years, the CBO added, giving Republicans some extra wiggle room to satisfy deficit hawks. Republicans can only afford to lose two votes. On the fence is Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), whose “no” votes helped tank efforts over the summer to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“I believe taking a particular provision from the Affordable Care Act and appending it to the tax bill greatly complicates our efforts,” Collins said. “One of my concerns is that it will cause premiums in the individual markets to go up as healthier younger people drop out.”
The House’s version of the tax bill, which will get a floor vote on Thursday, does not include language about the Obamacare individual mandate. Speaker Paul Ryan said he worried that it would jeopardize the bill’s fate, especially given that the Senate failed to repeal and replace Obamacare over the summer while the House was able to get it done. When it comes to the latest effort to dismantle Obamacare, Ryan suggested, the ball is in the Senate’s court—and that’s not a particularly comforting thought for Obamacare opponents.
“Obviously we’re in favor of repealing the individual mandate, but we didn’t want to needlessly complicate the passage of tax reform given we did not have the votes before to get this through the Senate,” Ryan said Tuesday night at a Fox News town hall.
Progressive organizations such as CREDO were already working overtime to paint the House tax bill as a “scam,” with more than 3,000 calls placed to vulnerable House Republicans in California pressuring “no” votes on the bill. On the Senate side, Murshed Zaheed, CREDO’s political director, told The Daily Beast that they are anticipating calls to begin on Friday, targeting Republicans like Collins, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and John McCain (R-AZ), who opposed previous iterations of repeal-and-replace..
On Wednesday evening, Sanders will join a call with a number of groups like MoveOn.org, the Working Families Party and the Center for Popular Democracy to discuss efforts to confront and defeat the GOP tax bill. Already, on a smaller scale, the Alaska Grassroots Alliance is leading an event in Anchorage on Wednesday intended to persuade the state’s Republican senators to vote against the bill. Angel Padilla, the policy director for Indivisible, a resistance organization started in the Trump era, told The Daily Beast that they have had about 120 events nationally in the past week on the tax bill and they’re preparing for a day of action on Nov. 27.
“This is always a health care fight,” Padilla told the The Daily Beast. “Most people understood that but now it’s crystal clear.”
The Senate is expected to consider the bipartisan Alexander-Murray Obamacare market stabilization bill alongside the tax legislation, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters. The proposal, which was crafted by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), won’t be tacked onto the tax bill. But Murray is accusing Republicans of using bipartisan legislation as a bargaining chip for a “partisan” overhaul of the tax system.
“Tacking Alexander-Murray onto the partisan tax reform effort is like trying to put a fire out with penicillin,” Murray said Wednesday morning at a committee hearing. “It will not do anything to help.”
Complicating matters further, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats would vote against Alexander-Murray if the GOP tax plan includes a repeal of the individual mandate. Schumer had previously said all Democrats would support it.
“Any Republican senator who thinks they can pass the individual mandate and then turn around and get Murray-Alexander passed is dead wrong,” he said Wednesday on the Senate floor.
Republicans, meanwhile, have contended that because the Supreme Court ruled the individual mandate a tax, it fits within the framework of their efforts to overhaul the tax system. Alexander believes that the higher premiums that could come with scrapping the individual mandate injects a renewed sense of urgency to pass Alexander-Murray.
“There probably is going to be a lot in the tax bill that Sen. Schumer doesn’t like,” Alexander told reporters. “I don’t think that has anything to do with the Alexander-Murray bill, which is a carefully considered bipartisan proposal to lower rates, avoid chaos, that every Democrat has said they’re going to support. Now, it would be hard for me to see how they could then turn around and then vote against it.”