WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans are discussing whether their tax plan should include a repeal of the Obama health law's requirement that people have insurance coverage or face a penalty, a step pushed by President Donald Trump but seen by some GOP lawmakers as possibly imperiling a much-needed legislative victory.
It would be another shot at further undermining the Affordable Care Act after repeated failures by the GOP-led Congress to repeal and replace the law, as Trump has demanded and Republicans promised would happen after President Barack Obama left office and Republicans ran Washington.
The House Ways and Means Committee was set to begin work on the tax rewrite Monday, with the goal of full House consideration next week. The committee chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, has said including a repeal of the health law's individual mandate would be politically risky, given that the Senate has failed to pass health legislation in Trump's first year.
Ryan, R-Wis., told "Fox News Sunday" that "a lot of members are suggesting" that the House include the repeal, though he did not weigh in personally on how to deal with the coverage mandate.
Equally as evasive was the second-ranking House GOP leader: "Well, I know people are talking about it," Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on CBS'" Face the Nation." He added: "Look, my focus is on tax. As the individual mandate goes, I would not be opposed to that. But I want to see this bill go forward."
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repealing the individual mandate would save $416 billion over a decade. The mandate provides a powerful incentive for people to get coverage before health problems arise. But the money represents a tempting revenue source for GOP tax-writers whose tax plan would add an estimated $1.5 trillion over 10 years to the national debt.
Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told ABC's "This Week" that revenue counted through the repeal could in turn be used to soften the blow from the expiration of various tax credits and elimination of the deduction for state income and sales taxes.
"We're advocating on behalf of that," said Meadows, R-N.C.
Trump tweeted last week: "Wouldn't it 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." And Brady said Friday that the president had spoken to him twice by phone and once in person, making the case for scraping the mandate.
"There are pros and cons to this. Importing health care into a tax reform debate does have consequences," Brady said last week.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said on ABC that "we should confine this to tax cuts and tax reform."
Some Republican lawmakers from New York and New Jersey have come out against the bill in its current form, saying that ending deductions for state and local sales and income taxes would hit their constituents the hardest.
Republicans talking up the tax bill on the Sunday shows played down concerns that the bill would add substantially to the nation's debt.
"Preliminary numbers really look very good in terms of economic growth. So, over a longer period of time, some 10 to 15 years, we believe that the economic growth will outweigh any short-term deficit increase that we see," Meadows said.
"These so-called budget hawks have turned into an extinct, endangered species," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."
In examining the GOP's tax bill, Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation projected that the expiration of certain tax breaks would result in tax increases for some income groups in some years.
An analysis from the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said the committee's projections showed the tax cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest households. Meanwhile, the joint committee's analysis indicated that tax filers with incomes between $20,000 and $40,000 would pay higher individual income taxes in 2023 and each year thereafter, as would filers with incomes between $200,000 and $500,000.
McCarthy said Senate rules did not allow the House to make certain tax cuts permanent, "but I will promise you this: As the growth comes in, those will be kept," McCarthy said.