When Senate Republican leaders added the repeal of the ACA's individual mandate to their tax plan, it looked like an enormous gamble. After all, the GOP's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act were derailed by bipartisan opposition, and by tying tax cuts for the wealthy to health care policy, it raised the prospect of greater opposition to the latest Republican gambit.
But that only works if the GOP senators who helped rescue the health care system over the summer are willing to do so again now. Evidently, that may not be the case.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she would support repealing the Affordable Care Act's individual insurance mandate, giving a potential boost to the Republican effort to pass a massive tax cut package next week.
"I believe that the federal government should not force anyone to buy something they do not wish to buy, in order to avoid being taxed," Murkowski wrote in an opinion piece published Tuesday by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Let's back up for a minute in order to better understand the landscape here. The original Republican plan was to overhaul the federal tax code in order to benefit the wealthy and corporations, but the effort ran into trouble when GOP officials couldn't get their numbers to add up. They needed more money to cover the cost of a permanent corporate tax break.
At Donald Trump's urging, Republicans determined they could repeal the "Obamacare" individual mandate and have an additional $338 billion over the next decade to pay for more tax breaks. As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, for the right, this represented the best of both worlds: the GOP could gut the health care law they love to hate, and at the same time, they could redirect that money to finance tax cuts.
There was, however, a catch: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office explained to lawmakers that repealing the ACA's individual mandate would destabilize the insurance market, force many consumers to pay higher premiums, and end coverage for 13 million Americans over the next decade. Hospitals, doctors, and insurers all said this was a very bad idea.
The result was effectively a caricature of Montgomery Burns-style policymaking: Republicans are pursuing a plan that would leave millions of families without health security, disproportionately hurt the poor, all in the hopes of redistributing wealth from the bottom up.
As of yesterday, Lisa Murkowski isn't yet prepared to say no to this.