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Allow me to lay out how it is that Republicans in the U.S. Senate want you to give up your health insurance so that they can give income-tax cuts inordinately to rich people.

This is one of those occasions when something sounds scandalous but is merely conservative policy.

Whether those are the same ... that's for y'all to decide.

I'm just here for the relatively simple explanation.

Under the budget-reconciliation rules allowing the U.S. Senate to try to pass the tax-cut bill by a simple majority vote rather than stand vulnerable to a filibuster requiring 60 votes, Republicans must present a measure adding no more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

Alas, the Congressional Budget Office said the Senate tax-cut bill as written early in the week would add $1.7 trillion to the deficit.

Uh, oh. Republicans needed to come up with at least $200 billion in 10-year savings, ideally a little more than that for breathing room.

As it happens, Our Guy Tommy Cotton's idea to repeal the Obama-care individual mandate in the tax bill--relieving Americans of the requirement to get health insurance or pay a tax-return penalty--would save the federal government $338 billion over a decade, again according to the CBO.

So, the Republicans could remove the penalty on the mandate and thus destroy Obamacare, essentially--since the tax penalty is the hammer that compels healthy young people to enter the insurance pool and help keep premiums lower for everybody and equitable for people with pre-existing conditions.

At the same time, Republicans could meet the procedural math requirement under budget reconciliation and go forward with a simple majority vote on income-tax rate reductions that, as always, will direct most of the new cash to those with the largest wads of old cash.

How does it save the federal government money to allow healthy young people to cease paying tax penalties? It's because the federal government now subsidizes on a declining scale the premiums of low-income and middle-income working people.

If fewer of those people get health insurance, then the federal government pays less in subsidies--more than $300 billion less over a decade, the CBO says.

Ending the mandate probably would cause the Affordable Care Act to collapse. The CBO says the reduction in the premium-paying pool--an estimated 13 million people--would send premiums rising at a rate of 10 percent a year.

Altogether, then, to recap: The CBO says eliminating the individual mandate would end health insurance for millions and cause steep premium hikes; meantime, the federal government would reap big savings from not having to subsidize these millions of abandoned policies--all of that to allow tax cuts to go forward to easier passage under Senate rules.

It is as was put in the beginning: Republicans want working people to drop their health insurance based on its looming unaffordability so that the federal government could stop subsidizing their premiums and thus afford tax cuts going, dollar-wise, mostly to high-income people.

That's just the fact.

Republicans act like it's a good thing. That's because they believe it is a good thing. They think government mandates are bad. They think more money in abundant pockets is good.

They extol these "savings" as if the loss of working-class health insurance that produced them was a happy circumstance.

Republicans say they oppose transferring wealth. And they are right. They're not transferring wealth in this case. They're transferring help for the struggling to make the already-wealthy wealthier still.

For now--and forgive me if this starts to sound like the health-care scenario--Republicans can spare two senators and still pass the tax bill with Vice President Mike Pence's tiebreaker.

But, already, Maine's Susan Collins is not liking what the individual mandate repeal might do to the middle class. Wisconsin's Ron Johnson says he's a "no" for now because the bill reduces corporate tax rates but requires a small-business person remunerated from business earnings to pay at individual rates.

And now, suddenly, there arises from the Roy Moore creepiness the spectacularly ironic prospect of crimson Alabama sending a Democrat to the Senate after the Dec. 12 special election, by which the Senate may not be able to get the tax-cut bill passed.

That could leave the fate of the bill to the sole discretion of, say, Bob Corker or some other true deficit-hawk, or even--for dramatic reprise--John McCain's famously downward thumb of summer.

It could be that we'll get a gutting of health insurance and an inordinate tax cut for the rich in one consummately conservative bill.

Or it could be that those two disgraces could be killed with that one bill--Obamacare repeal crashing for the third time and tax cuts for the first.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/19/2017

Print Headline: What could happen

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  • RBear
    November 19, 2017 at 7:45 a.m.

    Good column John. It points out what Republicans are all about, focus on the wealth and not on the rest of the nation. The shenanigans Republicans are pulling to get those tax cuts for the wealth across the finish line is often too much for the average American to understand, especially the Trump demographic. While I don't hold out hope for the later, the former should be reading the impact of some of these changes to the tax code.
    This is just another example of how bad this tax reform bill is, cited by many as the most unpopular bill put forth by Republicans this year. Just when we thought Republicans couldn't sink any lower than their health care coverage reforms, they pulled this one out of their bag of tricks.
    So how do we see this playing out? Much like the other failed attempts by Republicans. While it may pass the House where the insanity of the mob reigns supreme, Senate Republicans will have to work much harder to maintain their razor thin majority. At that point, the wheeling and dealing will start happening leading to not a better bill, but a hacked up version attempting to maintain votes.
    Any thought of coherent strategy by Republicans will be out the door and quite honestly it will be a big mess of changes that could have serious impacts on the economy. Any hope for leadership from the White House as we have seen the past by presidents from both parties is non-existent. Trump does good to even figure out what sound bite to tweet.

  • carpenterretired
    November 19, 2017 at 10:42 a.m.

    Well the GOP bill is just traditional republican principles (since Hays ) of protecting the wealth, power ,and privilege of the rich with reverse Robin Hood robbing of the poor(and middle class) to give to the rich ,even a provision to benefit private jet owners while taking away the deduction for school teachers who buy class room supplies for the kids to use , just old fashion republican Christian charity .

  • wildblueyonder
    November 20, 2017 at 1:47 p.m.

    Before I even got to the comments I guessed the first post would be rbear saying, "Good column, John". Was I right?