Senate Republicans are engaged in a furious round of deal-making to save their health care bill before skipping town Thursday afternoon, including a potential agreement to scrap some of their Obamacare repeal bill’s tax cuts.
As he entered the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday morning, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said the party is leaning toward maintaining Obamacare’s tax on wealthy individuals’ investments. The GOP would then reallocate that money to assisting low-income peoples’ insurance premiums.
No final decision has been made, Republicans said, but the party is leaning strongly toward reshaping the bill to be less of a tax cut for the wealthy and more to supplying health insurance options to the working poor.
“We are going to figure out a way, I believe, before Friday comes, to greatly enhance the ability of lower-income Americans to buy health insurance on the exchanges that actually covers them. And my sense is the [investment tax] is going to go away,” Corker said. “It’s not an acceptable proposition to have a bill that increases the burden on lower-income citizens and lessens the burden on wealthy citizens.”
Killing or delaying the tax cuts will give the party significantly more money to play with and potentially change the optics of a bill portrayed by Democrats and some GOP critics as a tax cut for the rich at the expense of curtailing benefits for the poor.
The "net investment tax" imposes a 3.8 percent charge on some investments by people who make more than $250,000 a year, in addition to the capital gains tax. Centrist and deal-making senators are ready to scrap it to take away critics’ ammunition.
Corker and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have both raised the issue in party lunches, Republicans said.
Republicans are also considering keeping a Medicare tax increase from Obamacare that their initial bill would cut. Combined, the investment tax and Medicare tax could give the party more than $200 billion to invest in healthcare, on top of the $188 billion in savings the GOP has to spend from its initial Congressional Budget Office score this weekend.
McConnell met with a bevy of senators privately over the past two days, including conservatives like Ted Cruz of Texas and moderates like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The party is trying to reach a new deal on healthcare by Friday.
“One of the things the working group said at the outset is that we will not set any artificial deadlines. We would keep working until we reached an agreement,” Cruz said after leaving McConnell’s office.
Movement on the party’s tax cuts follows a new Wednesday evening offer among White House and congressional negotiators. That plan would deliver $45 billion to fight opioid addiction and establish health savings accounts that would allow people to pay for insurance premiums with pre-tax money, aimed at moderates and conservatives, respectively.
The frenzied atmosphere is a last-ditch attempt by McConnell and his lieutenants to salvage a bill that will no longer be considered this week, despite vows by leadership that a vote would occur regardless of the outcome.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that he’d like the Senate to vote in the first two weeks after the chamber reconvenes following the July Fourth recess. He said part of the difficulty is receiving a new score from CBO which he said is using a “Ouija board … to predict the future.” The Senate cannot vote without a CBO score.
“We’re continuing to have conversations and I know it’s aggravating to the press corps because there isn’t really anything to report,” Cornyn said.
Jennifer Haberkorn, Sarah Karlin-Smith and Seung Min Kim contributed.