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White House budget director open to removing Obamacare mandate repeal from tax overhaul bill

| Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, 5:39 p.m.
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington.
Associated Press
Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington.

WASHINGTON — President Trump's budget director said Sunday that the White House is open to removing a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate from the GOP legislation to overhaul the nation's tax laws if it becomes an hindrance to the bill's passage.

"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," Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on CNN's "State of the Union." "If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we are OK with taking it out."

Mulvaney said he does not think it is currently an impediment. He said it would be up to House and Senate negotiators to figure out whether to include it in a final legislative package.

The mandate repeal has become a point of contention in the GOP effort to pass the tax bill by the end of the year. In a strategy shift, Senate GOP leaders opted last week to include it in their legislative framework. The tax bill that passed the House last week did not include the repeal.

Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, said Sunday that the White House is "very comfortable with the House bill" because it achieves its top priorities.

"We also, though, believe the individual mandate is a tax," Short said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "And it is harming middle-income families the most. So we like the fact that the Senate has included it in its bill."

The individual mandate requires most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a fine. Including it in the Senate bill gives GOP leaders in the upper chamber more revenue to work with in their version of the legislation, because it would probably result in fewer Americans signing up for insurance and taking advantage of federal subsidies offered by the government to pay for coverage.

Critics of the maneuver say it would harm the nation's health-care system. The back-and-forth has reignited debates over the ACA, also known as Obamacare, the law that Republicans spent months this year unsuccessfully trying to dismantle.

Republican leaders are hoping that passing a broad tax overhaul will help them turn the page on their failure to repeal and replace the ACA and give them a boost headed into next year's midterm elections. They are seeking to pass a far-reaching plan to simplify the tax code and slash taxes. The majority of the cuts would go to corporations and wealthy Americans.

Senate GOP leaders plan to bring their bill to the floor for consideration after lawmakers return from next week's Thanksgiving recess. It remains unclear whether they will have the votes to pass their measure, as some key Republican senators have voiced concerns. Republicans hold a narrow 52-to-48 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a centrist who has voiced several worries about the bill, said on "This Week" that the "biggest mistake" was including the mandate repeal. She expressed hope that it would be dropped from the proposal or that a plan to mitigate its effects that she and other senators are pushing would be adopted.

Collins did not say how she would vote on the bill. If the Senate passes its legislation, it would have to work out its differences with the House version.

Asked whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would be willing to remove the mandate repeal if it becomes an impediment, Don Stewart, a McConnell spokesman, called that scenario a "hypothetical" one.

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