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The Senate Tax Bill’s Chances Just Got Better

Steven T. Dennis
Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, is trailed by members of the media in the basement of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. Senate Republicans making one last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare have the daunting task of assembling 50 votes for an emotionally charged bill with limited details on how it would work, what it would cost and how it would affect health coverage -- all in 12 days.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski’s decision to agree late Tuesday to smash Obamacare’s individual mandate may remove one obstacle to passing the Senate Republican tax bill next week.

Murkowski hasn’t yet endorsed the tax bill but had previously said she preferred not to mix it with health care, and she was one of three mavericks who killed the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts earlier this year.

"I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy in order to avoid being taxed," she wrote in an op-ed in Alaska’s Daily News-Miner newspaper posted online Tuesday night.

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The mandate repeal now appears much more likely to stay in the bill, where it helps offset more than $300 billion in additional tax cuts. It’s also crucial to President Donald Trump’s goal of making corporate tax cuts permanent under the Senate’s budget rules.

There are still other hurdles for the tax bill to get to 50 votes. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine -- who joined Murkowski in torpedoing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year -- have yet to sign on. Several Republican senators led by Bob Corker of Tennessee have raised concerns about the deficit. And Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson also threatened to vote against the bill without more tax relief for pass-through businesses.

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But Murkowski’s vote has long been wooed by the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The bill notably includes a provision opening up Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling -- a priority for Alaska lawmakers for decades.

In recent weeks, Murkowski has been openly conflicted on how to vote on the mandate, saying she was concerned that higher premiums from repealing it could cancel out the tax cuts for some in the middle class. But in her op-ed, she drops those concerns, saying repealing the mandate would simply restore people’s freedom to choose and noting the sky-high insurance costs under the ACA in her state.

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"A silver plan for a family of four, with a $9,000 deductible, will cost about $2,160 per month in 2018," she wrote. For families who make too much for subsidies, that amounts to nearly $35,000 out of pocket before insurance kicks in, she added.

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