GOP may keep some Obama increases

Published 7:25 am Friday, June 30, 2017

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders considered keeping one of former President Barack Obama’s big tax increases on wealthier Americans and using the money to fatten proposed subsidies for the poor in a bid Thursday to placate moderate GOP lawmakers and salvage their struggling health care bill.

With a core priority tottering, top Republicans also assessed an amendment pushed by conservatives to let insurers offer plans with low premiums and scant benefits. To do so, a company would also have to sell a policy that abides by the consumer-friendly coverage requirements in Obama’s 2010 statute, which the GOP is struggling to repeal.

Both proposals were encountering internal Republican opposition, and it was uncertain either would survive. But the effort underscored how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., needed to mollify both wings of his divided party if he’s to rescue one of his and President Donald Trump’s foremost campaign promises.

McConnell postponed a vote on an initial version Tuesday, forced by conservative and moderate GOP senators prepared to block it.

By Friday, McConnell wants to add changes to the bill that would assure its passage after Congress’ week-long July 4 recess. For him to prevail, no more than two of the 52 GOP senators can oppose the measure.

But as senators charged out the Capitol’s doors Thursday to begin their break, there were no overt indications that GOP leaders had resolved their problems.

“We’re kind of at a stalemate right now, I’d say,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who with Ohio GOP Sen. Robert Portman and others want to forestall reductions the measure would make in Medicaid. Discussions about easing those cuts were continuing, but progress so far was “not enough for me,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

The Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people has grown dramatically in their states and others, but the Republican bill would cut it, with reductions growing over time.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said that while GOP leaders might have a package in hand Friday, “I’m not confident that’s going to, kind of, solve everybody’s concerns.”

Vice President Mike Pence met in the Capitol on Thursday with Capito, Heller and other GOP dissidents, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Texas’ Ted Cruz.

The Senate bill would repeal most of the tax boosts Obama levied, around $700 billion over the coming decade. They were aimed largely at high earners and the medical industry and helped finance his expansion of coverage to about 20 million people.

Under a proposal by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the bill would retain Obama’s 3.8 percent tax increase on investments by higher earners. Keeping that increase would save $172 billion over 10 years, and moderates want to use it to make the health care subsidies their bill would provide more generous.