Posts Tagged ‘Republicans’

GOP Congress expected to be the most unproductive in 164 year

July 18, 2017

By David Faris

Speaker of the House paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Just six months ago, it looked like the Republican Party was about to go on a legislative blitzkrieg, shredding law after law passed by the Obama administration. ObamaCare would be vaporized and replaced with a nickel rattling inside an empty Mountain Dew can. Dodd-Frank was sure to be tossed aside for a transparent giveaway to Wall Street. And Republicans would pass their regressive tax reform, their perplexing border-adjustment tax, and so much more. The GOP hadn’t held total power in American politics since 2006, and the party had become much more conservative in the interim. And instead of George W. Bush, a man who recognized at least some theoretical limits on free market fundamentalism, the new Congress would work with a sub-literate tabula rasa named Donald Trump, a man who could probably be persuaded to inject himself with experimental medication if an important-seeming person whispered “do it” in his ear.

But a funny thing happened on the way to libertarian utopia. Indeed, it turns out that the GOP-controlled Congress can’t seem to pass any meaningful laws at all. Either they have forgotten how, or the divisions in their own increasingly radicalized caucus are proving too difficult to surmount. Whatever the explanation, thus far these GOP legislators are on track to be the least productive group since at least the Civil War.

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Now, okay, technically the Ryan-McConnell 115th Congress is so far actually a bit more active than recent Congresses, if you measure by the 43 laws that President Trump has adorned with his garish signature. Obama was at 40 at this point in 2009. George W. Bush had signed even fewer midway through 2001. But sheer number is not the best way to think about how much is being achieved. As The Washington Post‘s Philip Bump pointed out, a majority of the bills signed by Trump thus far have been one page long, meaning many are just symbolic or ceremonial.

Some of this very brief legislation has also been passed under the Congressional Review Act, a previously obscure statute that allows Congress to nullify recently enacted federal regulations. The CRA had been used just once before Trump took office, and yet 14 of the 43 bills signed into law by the president have been CRAs. Most of them roll back Obama-era protections against various kinds of transparent evildoing, like preventing coal mining within 100 feet of streams. They’re not meaningless, but the Voting Rights Act they are not.

So what’s the holdup on important bills getting to Trump’s desk? Both Obama and Bush had passed extraordinarily consequential legislation by this point in their first terms. The Bush tax cuts were signed in June 2001, and the massive stimulus that some economists credit with preventing another Great Depression was inked by Obama in February 2009. This Congress has not yet forwarded any legislation to the president that will significantly alter the trajectory of our politics or economics. Feel free to review the whole list yourself here and argue differently, unless you think the “U.S. Wants To Compete For a World Expo Act” (H.R. 534) is going to be the subject of debate by future historians.

One major problem for the GOP’s lack of progress is polarization — just not the kind you’re thinking of.

Over the past few years, journalists have given significant attention to the data maintained by political scientists at the University of California Los Angeles, which tracks the ideological makeup of individual members of Congress over time. The most important finding they’ve uncovered is that over the past 30 years, congressional Republicans have become substantially more ideologically extreme, while congressional Democrats have moved marginally to the left but are not much different as a group than they were in 1980, a process known as “asymmetric polarization.” For most of the post-war period, there were Democrats who were more conservative than the most liberal Republican, and vice versa. The last time this happened in the Senate was in the 108th Congress, when soon-to-be-ex-Democrat Zell Miller sat to the right of several liberal Republicans, including Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and future party-switching Republicans Lincoln Chafee and Arlen Specter.

The slow decline of this ideological overlap has led inexorably to gridlock and dysfunction when one party controls the presidency and the other leads at least one chamber of Congress. There is is simply less to talk about. It’s not like disagreeing about whether to get a Border Collie or a Boston Terrier; it’s like if you want a dog and only a dog and nothing but a dog and your partner despises animals of all kinds.

But you would think that this sorting would make for more coherent ideological blocs more capable of making policy when one party controls Congress and the presidency, as Republicans do now. That was surely what Republican voters expected when they woke up triumphant on Nov. 9 last year. But the divide within the Republican Party is proving to be as problematic as polarization between the parties. The ideological distance between the Senate’s most liberal member (Maine’s Susan Collins) and the most hard-right senator (Utah’s Mike Lee) is the same as the chasm between a middle-of-the-pack Democrat like Maryland’s Ben Cardin and a conservative like Iowa’s Joni Ernst.

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If you want to understand how much harder it is going to be for Republicans to get anything done than it was for the Democrats in 2009-2011, your best bet is to look at this intra-Republican distance. When Democrats were toiling away on what was to become the Affordable Care Act, the total distance between the most left-wing elected Democratic senator (Bernie Sanders) and the most right-wing (Nebraska’s Ben Nelson) was barely half the size of the canyon between Susan Collins and Mike Lee. Think about that for a second.

And it’s not like Collins is alone. She’s part of a cluster of three GOP senators, along with Lisa Murkowski and Shelly Moore Capito, who are much more liberal than the rest of the caucus. (By the way, it is not a coincidence that the GOP’s three most reasonable senators are women). Moreover, Mike Lee is part of a bloc of five far-right radicals — along with Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, and Ted Cruz — who are all substantially more conservative than anyone in the Senate during Barack Obama’s first two years in office. In a sane political system, there is a zero percent chance that Mike Lee and Susan Collins would be members of the same political party.

To make matters worse, Republicans control only 52 seats in the Senate and as of yet seem unwilling to nuke the legislative filibuster (something they could do at any time by changing the rules of the Senate). Republicans no longer have conservative Democrats to lean on to get to 60 votes when their own most liberal members are beyond reach, because GOP behavior during the Obama years taught Democrats the electoral value of party unity. That means that even some very conservative pieces of legislation that have already passed the House, including the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10), which guts Dodd-Frank, stand very little chance of becoming law. House leaders, including Speaker Ryan, either aren’t particularly interested in crafting bills that could actually get through the Senate or they have given up trying to forge the necessary compromises.

Or they are delusional.

The result, regardless, is that this Congress is going to be historically unproductive. How can I be so sure of this? One measure of what Congress is likely to do the rest of the year is to look at bills that have already passed the House but are awaiting action in the Senate. There are 238 of them. Amazingly, GovTrack gives only 13 a better than 50 percent chance of actually arriving on President Trump’s desk in their current form. If that holds up, Trump will have signed just 56 laws by the beginning of the 2018 congressional session. If this tortoise-like pace continues, he will preside over the least productive Congress since Millard Fillmore signed just 74 bills sent to him by the brink-of-war 32nd Congress between 1851 and 1853.

Maybe that will change. But if it doesn’t, the Republican Party’s problems are far bigger than Trump — and will probably get worse before they get better.

GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Abandons Health-Care Bill

July 18, 2017

Majority leader says “it is now apparent” Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare won’t be successful

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the GOP’s health-bill overhaul late Monday night.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the GOP’s health-bill overhaul late Monday night. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON—Senate GOP leaders gave up their effort to dismantle and simultaneously replace much of the Affordable Care Act, after the defections of two more Republican senators left the party short of the votes needed to pass President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority of his first seven months in office.

In a stinging defection for party leadership, GOP Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas on Monday night became the third and fourth Republicans to oppose the latest version of the GOP bill, which would roll back and replace much of the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Republicans had already lost two GOP votes, from Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine, and the new opposition from Messrs. Lee and Moran meant Senate leaders didn’t have enough support to advance the bill in a procedural vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, Ky.) acknowledged the defeat. “Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful,” he said in a statement.

Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!

In a strategy facing long odds, the majority leader said the Senate would instead vote in coming days on a bill the chamber passed in late 2015 to unravel most of the ACA, which former President Barack Obama vetoed in January 2016.

Conservatives in both chambers and Mr. Trump have pressed to repeat the vote on the 2015 bill, which Mr. McConnell said would come as an amendment to the health-care bill passed by the House in May and would allow for a two-year transition.

“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Mr. Trump tweeted shortly before Mr. McConnell’s statement.

Mr. Trump had embraced the idea earlier in July when it was proposed by Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who noted that 49 sitting GOP senators had voted for a sweeping repeal bill earlier.

But many Republican senators have balked at this strategy, saying they wouldn’t feel comfortable rolling back the ACA without being able to tell their constituents what would supplant it.

Mr. McConnell’s latest tactic applies new pressure to conservatives who have so far blocked a bill they have said falls short of ACA repeal by offering them the chance to vote on exactly that. And while it is unlikely to become law, it also offers a way to move on from a bruising fight.

With 52 Republicans in the Senate, Mr. McConnell needed to secure at least 50 GOP votes, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tiebreaking vote. No Democrats were expected to support the bill. The opposition from Messrs. Lee and Moran ended a frenzied period of negotiations aimed at shoring up faltering GOP support.

“In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle-class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations,” Mr. Lee, one of the Senate’s most conservative Republicans, said in a statement Monday night.

Mr. Moran said he objected to the process used to craft the Senate GOP health-care bill, which he said “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address health care’s rising costs.”

Messrs. Lee and Moran are likely to face backlash from Mr. Trump and his supporters, who were eager to see Republicans keep their seven-year promise to repeal the 2010 health law.

Their move comes as a surprise to many in Washington, since Mr. Moran rarely breaks with GOP leaders and Mr. Lee has often voted in step with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), who introduced a key measure that GOP leaders incorporated into the bill last week.

On Monday night, the White House issued a statement that repeated a stance the president’s officials have taken in recent days—that GOP senators have no choice but to act.

“Insurance markets continue to collapse, premiums continue to rise, and Obamacare remains a failure. Inaction is not an option,” a spokesman said. “We look forward to Congress continuing to work toward a bill the president can sign to end the Obamacare nightmare and restore quality care at affordable prices.”

Republicans’ struggle to pass a health-care bill has exposed divisions within the party that could imperil other key items on their legislative agenda, including their yearslong push to overhaul the tax code.

Many had expected the next defection to come from the more centrist GOP senators, who have wavered over the latest version of the health-care bill, including Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, who is up for re-election next year, and Republicans concerned about the bill’s cuts to federal Medicaid funding, such as Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

Democrats said it was time for Republicans to begin to work with them on strengthening the health-care system.

“This second failure of Trumpcare is proof positive that the core of this bill is unworkable,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Monday night. “Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should start from scratch and work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long term stability to the markets and improves our health-care system.”

The downfall of the bill is a tough blow for Mr. Trump, who has made it clear that undoing the 2010 law is a priority and has leaned heavily on fellow Republicans to make it happen. Mr. Trump said recently he would be very angry if the repeal legislation didn’t make it to his desk, and he was meeting Monday night with a handful of Republican senators to discuss the legislation.

Earlier Monday, the president promised Republicans would replace the law with “something that is going to be outstanding” and “far, far better than failing Obamacare.”

“We’re going to get that done,” he said, “and I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has already encouraged states to apply for waivers giving them more flexibility in enforcing the law and structuring their Medicaid programs. The waivers allow states to require many people to work to obtain their Medicaid benefits, among other changes.

Insurers will immediately be looking for assurances that the cost-sharing subsidies will be paid, said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The drop-dead date for insurers will be mid to late September, when they have to sign contracts for 2018.

The individual insurance market has been stabilizing in most of the country and could continue just fine, Mr. Levitt said, but insurers will be reading the tea leaves for whether the Trump administration will make the subsidy payments they are expecting and enforce the individual mandate.

There are still some fragile markets, especially in rural areas, and they will likely require some shoring up to make sure insurers are participating and premiums are affordable, he said.

Write to Kristina Peterson at and Stephanie Armour at

Appeared in the July 18, 2017, print edition as ‘GOP Abandons Senate Health Bill.’


GOP effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” fatally wounded in the Senate as two more Republican senators announced their opposition

July 18, 2017

The Associated Press

 (AP) — The latest GOP effort to repeal and replace “Obamacare” was fatally wounded in the Senate Monday night when two more Republican senators announced their opposition to legislation strongly backed by President Donald Trump.

The announcements from Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas left the Republican Party’s long-promised efforts to get rid of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation reeling. Next steps, if any, were not immediately clear.

Lee and Moran both said they could not support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s legislation in its current form. They joined GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, both of whom announced their opposition right after McConnell released the bill last Thursday.

McConnell is now at least two votes short in the closely divided Senate and may have to go back to the drawing board or even begin to negotiate with Democrats, a prospect he’s threatened but resisted so far.

McConnell’s bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs. For the same reasons I could not support the previous version of this bill, I cannot support this one,” said Moran.

It was the second straight failure for McConnell, who had to cancel a vote on an earlier version of the bill last month when defeat became inevitable.

Trump had kept his distance from the Senate process, but Monday night’s development was a major blow for him, too, as the president failed to rally support for what has been the GOP’s trademark issue for seven years — ever since Obama and the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

The Senate bill eliminated mandates and taxes under Obamacare, and unraveled a Medicaid expansion. But for conservatives like Lee and Paul it didn’t go far enough in delivering on Republican Party promises to undo Obama’s law, while moderates like Collins viewed the bill as too extreme in yanking insurance coverage from millions.

Republicans Aren’t Team Players

July 17, 2017

GOP Senators who defect from ObamaCare repeal will hurt themselves, their party and the country.

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July 16, 2017 2:17 p.m. ET

Politics is a team sport, and Republicans are playing it poorly. They have one more chance in the Senate to repeal and replace ObamaCare—possibly their last hope for a victory.

Democrats are performing like a well-coached team. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has all 48 members of his caucus on board with saving ObamaCare at all cost. It’s been a successful strategy.

It works for one reason: Republicans are divided. Their 52-48 majority in the Senate means they can lose two votes and still prevail, since Vice President Mike Pence is the tiebreaker. After promising to get rid of ObamaCare for the past seven years, it shouldn’t be difficult.

But as many as eight Republican senators opposed the first GOP bill, forcing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to come up with a revised version. While an improvement, it has encountered opposition too. Mr. McConnell is skillful in bringing senators together. But here his task is more difficult than usual because the dissidents don’t all agree on what’s wrong with the bill. Appeasing one senator may alienate another.

This is an example of why legislative success depends on operating as a team. You don’t abandon your team just because you don’t get everything you want (or want left out). You hold your nose and vote for an imperfect measure, sometimes merely because it’s politically beneficial and better than the alternative.

This is especially true in dumping ObamaCare. The Republican alternative is a more free-market health-care system in which people can buy the insurance they want, not what government requires.

Sticking with the team makes that possible. But too many Republicans aren’t comfortable as team players. To them, it’s shady and unprincipled to vote for something about which you have serious doubts. Democrats are more realistic and less persnickety, so they’re better at uniting.

Senate Healthcare Bill — Unexpected McCain surgery delay gives more time for criticism — “The Votes Aren’t There”

July 17, 2017

Delay in long-promised vote after unexpected McCain surgery


A Republican push to pass a sweeping health-care law experienced another setback as Senate leaders said they would delay a vote set for this week, sparking fresh doubts about whether congressional leaders can muster support for a marquee GOP policy priority.

Updated July 16, 2017 7:05 p.m. ET

President Donald Trump and party leaders in Congress were hoping the Senate would vote this week on a plan to overturn parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and make other changes to the health system. But Senate leaders announced a delay after Sen. John McCain said he would recover in Arizona from surgery removing a blood clot above his left eye, leaving supporters short of the votes needed to move ahead with the bill.

The delay prolongs the uncertainty over the bill’s prospects. GOP leaders have pursued a fast-paced timeline, as health-policy changes are often controversial. Sen. John Cornyn, a member of Senate GOP leadership, told reporters last month that passing the bill is “not going to get any easier” with time. Another GOP senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the bill “is not like fine wine; it doesn’t get better with age.”

Meantime, insurance companies, state governors and congressional critics continued to line up against the bill, with their objections running the ideological gamut. Governors, including some Republicans, have said they are concerned about its proposed cuts to the growth of Medicaid spending, while two top insurance industry groups objected to a change to the GOP bill proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as “unworkable.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who can’t afford more than two defections among the 52 GOP senators, has been balancing demands by more-centrist lawmakers for additional money for Medicaid and consumer subsidies with a push by conservatives to pare back requirements on insurers in order to lower premiums for younger, healthier people.

One centrist and one conservative GOP senator who have bucked their party before, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have said they can’t support the bill, for different reasons. But others have yet to commit, and one more defection would derail the legislation. Mr. McCain’s absence means GOP leaders are short of the votes this week for a procedural motion to consider the bill.

Ms. Collins, speaking on Sunday on ABC, said that eight to 10 Republicans had “deep concerns” about the bill, even after a new version was unveiled last week to address issues raised by some GOP senators. “I think it would be extremely close,” she said when asked whether Mr. McConnell had the votes for passage.

Senate GOP leaders, spurred on by the White House, had been building toward a deadline of this week that had been intended to isolate and spotlight holdouts, warning them that they would pay a price for bucking their party and undermining its collective legislative goal of the past seven years. They have emphasized insurance-market woes under the ACA in some states as proof of the urgency of the cause.

Mr. McConnell had hoped to finish the health debate this week so the Senate could turn to the annual defense-policy bill, confirmation of more of Mr. Trump’s nominees and raising the debt limit before adjourning in mid-August.

The McCain absence gives Mr. McConnell and the White House a chance to continue working on holdout senators without having to back down from a vote this week. But it also creates a window for the 2010 health law’s supporters to continue a fight they believe is more likely to be successful the longer they wage it.

“A key factor is time: The longer the bill languishes, the less likely it will pass,” said Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments. “And there won’t be much time left after Labor Day, as Congress shifts its focus to budget and tax issues. So, while McCain’s absence complicates the health debate, it already was in deep trouble, even when he was healthy.”

Prime targets for both sides are the remaining senators who had opposed an earlier version of the Senate bill but haven’t taken a public stance on its latest iteration. Sen. Dean Heller (R., Nev.), up for re-election next year, is likely under the most pressure, due in part to concerns about the bill from the GOP governor of his state. Other Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, will be in the limelight this week.

The extra time also allows for more scrutiny of a measure from Mr. Cruz that would allow insurers to offer cheaper plans with less comprehensive coverage than required under the ACA, if they also offer plans that meet ACA coverage requirements. The proposal has alarmed insurers and centrist Republicans who say it would cause premiums to surge for sicker people, who would more likely buy more-comprehensive plans without the costs being offset by policies that younger and healthier people buy.

Senate leaders said they are confident they could hold the procedural vote to advance the bill as soon as Mr. McCain was back in the Senate. The White House declined to comment at length on the setback Sunday. “We wish Sen. McCain a speedy recovery,” said spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré.

The Trump administration has previously said a quick timeline on a health vote was best, particularly as Democrats and liberal organizers have stepped up their advocacy of preserving the ACA, which they see as former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

“The left, I think, has been more organized in their messaging on this than collectively Republicans have as far as advocating for the benefits of the bill,” said Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, last week.

The difficulty for many Republicans is that supporting the bill or opposing it both carry political risk. On the one hand, the party has for years vowed a full repeal of the ACA, known as Obamacare. “I think not being able to deliver on that promise would do serious and long-lasting damage to the credibility of Republicans,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview.

Others are weighing the fallout over health policy and how its changes would affect some states, particularly rural ones. “This bill would make sweeping and deep cuts to the Medicaid program….It would also jeopardize the very existence of our rural hospitals and our nursing homes,” Ms. Collins said on ABC. Conservative lawmakers say the financing for Medicaid as now configured is unsustainable.

Rep. Mark Amodei, a Republican representing a competitive district in Nevada, opposed an early draft of the House health bill but voted for the final version in May. He said that ultimately, he would expect GOP voters to be frustrated if Congress doesn’t repeal the ACA, or large swaths of it, but he recognizes the political peril either way.

“If somebody’s looking for safe harbor and no hard votes, this is going to be an awful year for them, because I think it’s going to be hard vote after hard vote after hard vote,” he said.

Jennifer Levitz contributed to this article

Write to Byron Tau at, Louise Radnofsky at and Kristina Peterson at

GOP Tax Overhaul’s Fate Rests on ‘Big Six’ Talks

July 7, 2017

House, Senate and White House officials gather to hash out detailed framework aimed for September

July 7, 2017 10:22 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Republican dreams for revamping the tax code rest, for now, in the hands of six men.

The officials from the House, Senate and White House—which some aides have taken to calling “The Big Six”—aim to overcome in months the internal divides and systemic obstacles that have blocked a major U.S. tax code rewrite for 31 years. Informed by stinging lessons from the slow-moving health policy debate and animated by the partywide…

GOP Senators Weigh Higher Health Premiums’ Possible Effect on Midterms

July 4, 2017

Republicans during July Fourth recess are confronted with prospect of premiums increasing 20% in January

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been answering questions about the Senate health care bill ever since it was released.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images


Updated July 4, 2017 11:38 a.m. ET

Republican senators are confronting a political challenge that is increasingly hard to ignore as they engage with voters during the July Fourth recess: Under their health-care overhaul, average premiums for a midlevel insurance plan would jump by 20% next January.


That means many people who don’t get insurance through work would see their premiums increase just a few months before the midterm elections, according to the nonpartisan…

See also:  How The Senate GOP Health Care Bill Could Affect The Midterms And Beyond


GOP Senators Weigh Taxing Employer-Health Plans

Senate Republicans set on reworking the Affordable Care Act are considering taxing employer-sponsored health insurance plans, a move that would meet stiff resistance from companies and potentially raise taxes on millions of people who get coverage on the job.

The move could raise billions in revenue that could be used to help stabilize the fragile individual insurance market. But it could be politically risky, since it could expand the impact of GOP health proposals from Medicaid recipients and those who buy insurance on their own to the roughly 177 million people who get coverage through their employers.

A number of lawmakers are open to the idea, including Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), GOP aides said, but there is no consensus yet on whether it should be included in the draft bill being written during this week’s congressional recess.

Under longstanding tax law, compensation in the form of health insurance isn’t treated as income for workers. That means employers can deduct the cost and the value isn’t subject to payroll taxes or individual income taxes. It is a system that economists say distorts the market in favor of generous insurance packages, but like other tax breaks, it has proven popular and difficult to dislodge.

Previous efforts to end the tax break have faltered. House Republicans, in crafting their version of the health bill earlier this year, considered limiting the amount companies could exclude from employees’ income for health coverage, but dropped the idea when it faced an immediate pushback.

Business groups opposed the House proposal vigorously, and many House Republicans expressed alarm over the practical and political impact.

“Most of America gets their insurance through the workplace,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R., Ohio) in an interview Thursday. The House proposal “was an overhaul of the only part [of the health system] that isn’t broken inherently,” he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), who floated the idea in his own health proposal, has said the tax code unfairly favors people who get their health insurance through work over those who buy it on their own. Republicans, Mr. Ryan said in March, want to “stop the discrimination in the tax code against people who want to go out in a free marketplace and buy the health care of their choosing.”

A spokesman for Sen. Lee said he was open to a tax on employer plans but wasn’t ready to commit to supporting anything until he saw the details, particularly how the revenue would be used.

Republicans are hoping to get the health-care law passed in the Senate by the end of June, an ambitious goal given that they have yet to reach consensus on key policy issues.

Nearly all premiums for employer-provided insurance are excluded from federal income and payroll taxes, an arrangement that cost the federal government more than $250 billion in fiscal 2016, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The portion of premiums paid by employees is often also excluded from taxable income.

The exclusion gives employers an incentive to offer more generous coverage, and economists say that raises total premiums and encourages unnecessary spending. Companies and unions who have fought to retain the exclusion say taxing the plans would prompt employers to scale back benefits, pass the cost of the tax to workers, or stop offering coverage altogether.

Despite the political risk, the idea appeals to some senators because it could bring in a lot of money. That is critical because the health bill must achieve at least $119 billion in budgetary savings over the next decade, under Senate procedures allowing the legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Republicans in both chambers have long favored limiting the exclusion but recognized the political risk. “If you start taxing workers for health benefits, you’re really expanding the number of people affected by these proposals,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Discomfort with the tax-free status of employer-sponsored health coverage isn’t limited to Republicans. Former President Barack Obama supported a 40% levy on generous employer plans, though that move, known as the Cadillac tax, has been delayed by Congress until 2020.

–Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Write to Stephanie Armour at and Kristina Peterson at


GOP senator calls for ObamaCare repeal first, replacement LATER

June 30, 2017

The Hill

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told Fox News on Friday that if Republicans can’t pass a bill to replace ObamaCare soon, they should repeal the entire law and work on a replacement later.

Speaking on “Fox and Friends,” Sasse said that if progress isn’t made by July 10, he’ll call on the president to separate the process.

“To date, we’ve been trying to do those two things at once, and not been making enough progress” Sasse said. “I still hope that process can work, but most people are leaving D.C. today to go home for the Fourth of July weekend.”

“If we don’t get this resolved by the Monday of next week, July 10, if there isn’t a combined repeal-and-replace plan, I’m writing a letter to the president this morning urging him to call on us to separate them,” he told Fox News.

Sasse said that the GOP has the votes it needs in the Senate to repeal ObamaCare, and it should focus on that first.

“Every Republican except one has already voted for repeal in the past,” Sasse said. “Let’s do that first, if we can’t do them together.””Let’s do as much repeal as we can,” Sasse continued, “And then let’s ask the president to cancel our August 8 work period, and then stay here and work on replace separate.”

Nine GOP senators have already said they won’t vote for the Senate’s bill to replace ObamaCare in its current form. The Senate GOP holds a 52-48 majority, meaning they can afford just two Republican defections and still pass the bill.

Includes video:


Senators Urge Trump to Back Wholesale Obamacare Repeal if GOP Bill Stalls

June 30, 2017

‘We must keep our word,’ says Ben Sasse of Nebraska

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse listens to testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on June 21.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse listens to testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on June 21. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS

June 30, 2017 8:24 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—Two key senators in the Republican effort to pass a health-care bill on Friday morning called for the White House to intervene with a more aggressive strategy if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t locked in 50 votes by the time lawmakers return from the July 4 recess—and President Donald Trump seemed to embrace the idea.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said that congressional leaders’ prospects of overturning parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and enact their own provisions in its place were dimming. He said the party’s best hope for passing a health-care bill now could be to wipe out the law in its entirety, then work on a deal to fill the void.

“On the current path it looks like Republicans will either fail to pass any meaningful bill at all, or will instead pass a bill that looks to prop up many of the crumbling Obama care structures,” he said in a letter he announced he was sending to the White House.

“We must keep our word. Therefore, if on July 10 we don’t have agreement on a combined repeal and replace plan, we should immediately vote again on H.R. 3762, the December 2015 Obamacare repeal legislation that the Congress passed but President Obama vetoed.”

Within minutes of Mr. Sasse’s announcement, which he also discussed on “Fox & Friends,” Mr. Trump suggested his support in a tweet.

If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!

“If Republican Senators are unable to pass what they are working on now, they should immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE at a later date!” he wrote.

Rand Paul of Kentucky, another senator whose support could make or break the legislation’s prospect, also endorsed the idea.

“I have spoken to @realDonaldTrump & Senate leadership about this and agree. Let’s keep our word to repeal then work on replacing right away,” he said on Twitter.

I have spoken to @realDonaldTrump & Senate leadership about this and agree. Let’s keep our word to repeal then work on replacing right away.

Conservative grass-roots groups have long pointed to the “dry run” vote that 49 current GOP senators took in 2015 under President Barack Obama to repeal the law they call “Obamacare,” saying that it put them on record as supporting a more sweeping measure than some are willing to accept.

Mr. Sasse said that another two GOP senators who have since joined Congress should also be expected to support the measure. The 52nd, Susan Collins of Maine, was in office but did not support it in 2015, but such a bill could pass with only 50 votes assuming it had the support of Vice President Pence. Mr. Sasse also said the Senate should stay in town for the month of August, working six days a week to pass replacement legislation by Labor Day.

Mr. Sasse has bucked the administration on things including the firing of FBI Director James Comey and Mr.Trump’s tweets. But he had kept his position on health-care legislation relatively quiet, even as almost a dozen other centrist and conservative Republican senators made various misgivings known. On Friday, he replied warmly to Mr. Trump’s suggestion on Twitter.

Glad you agree, Mr Pres. If no agreement next wk, 2 steps:
1. Repeal 1st; then
2. Spend August full-time on replace: 

“Glad you agree, Mr. Pres.” If no agreement next wk, 2 steps: 1. Repeal 1st; then 2. Spend August full-time on replace,” he wrote.

Senate Republicans can afford to lose no more than two votes to pass health-care legislation, counting on Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie and assuming no support from Democrats.

The White House had been eyeing Mr. Sasse and a handful of other undeclared conservative legislators; earlier this week, Sens. Sasse, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Tom Cotton of Arkansas dined with Mr. Pence, joined by the more openly critical Mike Lee of Utah.

Mr. Sasse’s move makes clear the extent of the challenge now facing Mr. McConnell, who in the past week has already seen an unusual rebuke to his authority when senators threatened to block a motion to proceed with a vote on the health-care bill.

But it also exposes the long-running pressure that GOP leaders from Mr. McConnell to Mr. Trump are under to mediate disputes between competing wings of the party.

Conservative groups have said since Mr. Trump’s election that they want to hold newly empowered Republicans to their campaign-trail promises to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a substantially different health-care policy.

Centrist Republicans have sought to retain popular provisions of the law, fearing disruption and a backlash if people lose coverage or states face funding crunches.

And both sides say they want to ensure that Republicans, now in control of both Congress and the White House, can notch legislative wins.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at


Ryan Talks Up Likelihood of Tax Overhaul

June 20, 2017

In a speech and a series of cable appearances, the House speaker will try to build momentum for the Republicans’ plan to enact a broad set of tax-policy changes

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington on Tuesday.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington on Tuesday. PHOTO:JEFF MALET/NEWSCOM/ZUMA PRESS

June 20, 2017 12:01 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON—House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) on Tuesday will express continued confidence that Republicans can deliver a groundbreaking set of tax-policy changes this year, despite a long list of hurdles in front of them.

Mr. Ryan, in a speech to manufacturers in Washington, isn’t expected to delve into the details that divide Republicans or the negotiations between the Trump administration and members of Congress.

“We need to get this done in 2017,” he will say, according to excerpts distributed by his office. “Transformational tax reform can be done, and we are moving forward.”

Mr. Ryan’s speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, sandwiched between cable news appearances, is meant to build momentum and public support for the party’s aims. Republicans face significant obstacles, but many see a tax overhaul as a political necessity that would deliver on one of their core campaign promises. For now, taxes are secondary to health care and other policy issues. But the GOP is planning a busy fall.

Tax policy would gain momentum if Republicans can pass a health law that repeals parts of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes that wouldn’t have to be addressed as part of a tax plan. Failure on health care would create complications for a tax bill, but it might also create a new sense of urgency.

Among the current challenges facing Republicans:

• The biggest is internal opposition—particularly in the Senate—to Mr. Ryan’s plan to add a border adjustment to the corporate tax, which would tax imports and exempt exports. Mr. Ryan has acknowledged the concerns, but he is also forging ahead in the absence of an alternative.

The border adjustment, Mr. Ryan argues, wouldn’t just provide an estimated $1 trillion over a decade to pay for lower tax rates. By basing taxes on sales instead of profits, it would also act as a backstop to prevent companies from shifting profits abroad in a system where the U.S. stops taxing companies’ foreign income.

“We are actually unique in the world in the way we discourage capital from coming back to America and how we incentivize offshoring jobs,” Mr. Ryan will say Tuesday. “We must think differently, so that once again we make things here and export them around the world.”

• Republicans also have to decide whether they want a tax cut or a revamp of the system that would leave federal tax collections roughly unchanged. Conservatives and some parts of the Trump administration favor a tax cut. Mr. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) have said they favor a so-called revenue-neutral approach—meaning that total taxes wouldn’t change much while rates get lowered and some breaks vanish—after counting revenue generated by the tax plan’s economic effects.

• Intra-Republican disputes threaten the GOP effort with every trade-off. Just this week, seven House Republicans from New York and New Jersey signed a letter asking the administration—and by extension, the speaker—to reconsider a plan to repeal the deduction for state and local taxes.

• To even get to tax policy, Republicans will have to pass a budget that allows them to use reconciliation, the procedural tool that enables a simple majority vote in the Senate. That will require bridging gaps between Republicans who emphasize spending cuts and those who want to spend more on the military.

• Then there is a pile of narrower issues that will crop up as Republican members find their home-state and home-district industries objecting to pieces of the tax bill.

The result may not be the tax plan Mr. Ryan first laid out a year ago or a copy of the temporary tax cuts that President George W. Bush pushed through in 2001 and 2003. But Republicans say they are determined to do something ahead of next year’s primaries and midterm elections.

Write to Richard Rubin at