Republicans are taking another run at the Affordable Care Act as part of their overhaul of the tax code.
Bowing to pressure from President Trump, Senate leaders announced on Tuesday afternoon that they would add the repeal of Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate to the far-reaching tax bill they unveiled last week. It’s a high-risk, high-reward maneuver for the GOP, which has struck out in its previous attempts to dismantle the health law. If successful, the move could be a two-for-the-price-of-one policy victory for a party desperate to energize its voters heading into a difficult campaign year. But GOP leaders have previously warned that it could backfire, jeopardizing complicated negotiations over a tax bill and compounding what is already a heavy political lift.
Even as he confirmed the effort on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed less than assured it would succeed. “We’re optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful,” he told reporters after Republicans senators discussed the issue over lunch.
But the political risk to the GOP lies in the reason why repealing the mandate would save money: According to the CBO, 13 million fewer people would have health insurance as a result, including many who would have received government subsidies. And millions more could eventually face higher premiums, since removing the requirement that people buy coverage would shrink the insurance pool and force insurers to raise prices. Inserting that provision would put immense pressure on the three Republicans who torpedoed the party’s effort to pass a “skinny” repeal over the summer, Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Arizona, along with others who opposed efforts to dismantle the health law without simultaneously replacing it.