Trump aides send mixed on tax bill’s health provision
Washington — Two of President Donald Trump’s leading economic advisers sent mixed signals Sunday on the fate of a health care provision in the Senate version of a $1.5 trillion measure to overhaul business and personal income taxes that is expected to be voted on after Thanksgiving.
The provision to repeal a requirement that everyone in the U.S. have insurance has emerged as a major sticking point for Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who has said that issue should be dealt with separately from the push by Trump and fellow Republicans to overhaul the tax code.
Collins’ vote is crucial in a chamber where Republicans hold a slim 52-48 edge.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., declared his opposition to the bill, saying last week that it doesn’t cut business taxes enough for partnerships and corporations. GOP Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee, John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, and Rand Paul of Kentucky also have concerns about it.
Republicans cannot afford to lose more than two senators on the final vote, which would allow Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking 51st vote in his capacity as president of the Senate. Democrats are not expected to support the bill, as was the case when the House passed its version last week.
Asked whether the health care provision will be removed to keep Republicans on board, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that the current plan is to keep the provision in the bill. The provision is not in the House version of the legislation.
“The president thinks we should get rid of it. I think we should get rid of it,” Mnuchin said. “It’s an unfair tax on poor people. To think that you put a penalty on people who can’t afford to buy medical policies, it’s just fundamentally unfair.”
He added: “But we’re going to work with the Senate as we go through this.”
Budget director Mick Mulvaney said the White House is open to scrapping the provision, which would repeal a key component of the Affordable Care Act health care law enacted by President Barack Obama. Trump has pressed for the provision to be added to the bill, partly to show progress on undoing the health care law. Congress fell short during previous attempts earlier this year to repeal the overall health care law.
“I don’t think anybody doubts where the White House is on repealing and replacing Obamacare. We absolutely want to do it,” Mulvaney said. “If we can repeal part of Obamacare as part of a tax bill and have a tax bill that is still a good tax bill that can pass, that’s great.
“If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we’re OK with taking it out,” Mulvaney added.
Mnuchin spoke on “Fox News Sunday.” Mulvaney and Collins were interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Collins also appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”