Trump Position on Individual Mandate in Tax Bill Complicates Task

Cotton plans to nix but key House tax-writer rejected idea Tuesday

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wants to use the tax bill to repeal the 2010 health care law’s individual mandate. Tax-writers are skeptical. But President Trump suddenly endorsed the idea on Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump threw congressional Republican tax-writers a curveball Wednesday, suddenly voicing support for using a coming overhaul measure to repeal the 2010 health care law’s individual insurance mandate.

Trump endorsed a provision being pushed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., with whom he has met several times in recent weeks. Cotton has been working with the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees to include the repeal of the health care law’s individual mandate in a tax overhaul bill. He said if he is unable to convince the leaders of those panels to include it in their tax bills, he will try to attach it as an amendment.

Trump fired off two tweets around the time he was slated to receive his daily intelligence briefing that it would be “great to Repeal the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate in ObamaCare and use those savings for further Tax Cuts.........for the Middle Class.”

The president seemed to suggest the individual mandate-killing provision would not need to be in the version of the separate tax overhaul bills the House and Senate plan to pass in the coming weeks. Rather, he wrote that lawmakers “should consider ASAP as the process of final approval moves along.”

His tweet comes a day after press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would not require the mandate-nixing language be in the tax bill in order for him to sign it into law. It also came a day after the House’s leading tax-writer signaled the idea had been set aside.

“The Senate has yet to pass the [repeal of the] individual mandate,” Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday. “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.

“Look, I want to see that individual mandate repealed,” Brady said. “I just haven’t seen– no one has seen 50 votes in the Senate to do it.”

Repealing the measure would likely complicate the tax overhaul push because it would decrease federal revenues. Further complicating matters, however, is that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, while killing the individual mandate would bring in less revenue to the Treasury, it could reduce costs to the government because fewer people would avail themselves of government subsidized insurance. And doing so without a replacement would likely throw the insurance market into chaos.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent golf partner of Trump’s, said his party will suffer in the 2018 midterm elections if it fails to pass a package of tax cuts. To that end, Trump’s tweet injected confusion and chaos into his party’s efforts to craft legislation and enact their shared domestic agenda.

Lindsey McPherson, Mary Ellen McIntire and Lauren Clausen contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.