President Trump on Wednesday said congressional Republicans should make a major change to their upcoming tax cut bill by including changes to the Affordable Care Act, an idea that has divided the GOP for months.
The idea had already been rejected one day earlier by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), who had said it risked bogging down the process. But Trump, in two Twitter posts Wednesday, pushed the idea, which has gained currency with some Senate Republicans. The biggest proponent of the idea is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
It could not be learned whether Trump’s Twitter posts were simply a musing or an official change in administration policy. The posts came just a few minutes after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) talked about the exact same idea during an appearance on Fox News Channel.
The White House had previously said it wanted to pass a tax-cut bill first and then revisit the health-care effort in early 2018. It’s also unclear whether it would be logistically possible to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act — often referred to as “Obamacare” — as part of the tax bill, because they must meet certain congressional rules set by the Senate budget process.
In his Twitter post, Trump is referring to a provision of the Affordable Care Act known as the “individual mandate,” which is a penalty that some Americans must pay if they don’t have health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the individual mandate would save more than $300 billion over 10 years and lead to about 15 million fewer Americans having health insurance because of a range of effects.
On Tuesday, Brady was asked about combining this change with his bill to rework the tax code, and he dismissed it during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt because he was skeptical that the Senate would be able to approve the health-care portion after multiple failed attempts.
“Look, I love these ideas from senators on health care, but what my constituents are looking at are for action on health care from our senators,” Brady said. “The Senate has yet to pass the individual mandate. I’m still hopeful they can find a way forward. What I don’t want to do is to add things that could again kill tax reform like health care died over there. So I say focus on jobs and growth and leapfrogging America to the lead pack worldwide.”
Several hours after Trump’s Twitter posts, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders appeared to distance his views from official White House policy.
“We are focused on pushing through tax cuts and tax reforms separately,” she told reporters. “Obviously we’ve never made it a secret that we’d like to repeal and replace Obamacare. We’d still like to do that. But we still think its probably more likely to do something like that in the spring.”
GOP leaders have tried to prevent the White House from interjecting with new ideas into the process as they work to craft details of House and Senate bills that are expected to be contentious. Brady was planning to introduce his tax overhaul bill on Wednesday, but he was delayed a day because GOP lawmakers wanted more time to understand how it would work. Senate Republicans are expected to introduce their version of the tax bill as soon as next week.
They are hoping to pass matching versions of the bill by the end of the year.
Carolyn Y. Johnson contributed to this report.