Repeated efforts to repeal and replace it having failed, the GOP now wants to include in its new Senate tax reform bill the elimination of the individual mandate, requiring purchase of health care insurance or payment of a fine.
Doing so would drive a stake into the heart of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, leaving an estimated 13 million Americans without coverage and creating a major crisis in the insurance market. According to Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, speaking for the Democrats, "We don't need to trade it for a tax bill, and we won't."
The Congressional Budget Office's estimate of the fallout of the Senate Finance Committee's latest plan to kill Obamacare confirms again the public's continued fear of losing the coverage, no matter how much the Republican legislators insist Americans hate Obamacare.
A prominent GOP senator, Susan Collins of Maine, one of the three Republicans who blocked ACA repeal in the last Senate vote, has already said getting rid of the individual mandate only "complicates" the situation. Another of the three, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has said only he will be "looking at" the notion, and the House version of the tax bill does not include the repeal.
The fact is that the reigning Republican strategists are so convinced that killing Obamacare will be a political winner for them that they have failed to grasp that for millions of Americans it has become a vital part of their social safety net — and their family’s.
The CBO in its estimate on the toll of repealing the individual mandate also calculated the cost of insurance in the Obamacare exchanges would go up about 10 percent under the change, and imperil a compromise deal worked out between Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to shore up the market.
Ms. Murray, pointing to the strong Democratic victories in the recent off-year elections in Virginia, New Jersey and other states, observed that the elections "clearly showed that the American people are paying attention, and they don't want their health care taken away, I don't think (the Republicans) are listening."
Unfortunately, hostility to the whole concept of the social safety net has been a characteristic of many legislators in the Grand Old Party and was built into their political DNA going all the way back to the New Deal days of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
From the start, they relentlessly played the dreaded "socialism" card against the Democrats, who regularly and successfully sold the safety net agenda to millions or poor and middle-class voters. The Democrats built an electoral powerhouse through the 1930s, 1940s and beyond.
Republican advocates of repealing the individual mandate, the glue that has held Obamacare together for seven years, say it would free up $338 billion over the next decade to finance the proposed Trump tax cuts, including a $2,000 per child tax credit for middle-income Americans.
The individual taxpayer cuts would expire as early as 2023 in the House bill and 2026 in the Senate version. But corporate taxes would drop from 35 percent to 20 percent and would be permanent. Among the beneficiaries would be a New York real-estate tycoon named Donald J. Trump and his heirs.
The Republican congressional strategists hope to accomplish two objectives by twinning the Obama individual mandate repeal with the deep corporate tax cuts. But again, Senate Democrats will stand in the way and a few Senate Republicans may also do so, either disagreeing on principle or out of growing resistance to the president they increasingly can't tolerate.
In sum, the old partisan argument goes on, with Republicans insisting that American businesses need their taxes cut and Democrats pleading that it not come at the cost of the nation's social safety net.
Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.