GOP senators’ competing interests might still tank the tax bill

Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake are both concerned that the Republican tax bill will balloon the deficit.

Just like with healthcare repeal, the GOP Senate leadership has pinned itself between competing forces that might cost them the votes necessary to pass a tax overhaul they’ve been salivating over ever since the inauguration. In one corner, you’ve got Republican senators who want changes made that will clearly add to the bill’s bottom line. In the other corner, so-called “deficit hawks” are fretting over the red ink. The Washington Post writes:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) objects to the last-minute decision by Republican tax writers to include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate — a critical source of revenue for the bill. And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) wants more generous treatment for pass-through businesses. Meanwhile, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), among others, have said the bill’s deficit impact could cost their support.

In a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Collins said the move to scrap the individual mandate will cause insurance premiums to spike, wiping out whatever middle-class benefit the bill might otherwise deliver. She stopped short of declaring herself opposed to the Senate bill, because she expects it to change, but she called the mandate repeal the “biggest mistake.”

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s vote might also be on the line over repeal of the individual mandate, though she has not said she would vote against the tax bill over it.

The question is, which way do they need to lean to get to 50 so VP Mike Pence can cast the tie-breaking vote? There’s no clear path to that 50 and no consensus on how to get there. The White House says it’s willing to drop the mandate repeal if it will push the bill over the finish line, but the Senate GOP originally added the measure as a sweetener to attract votes and hasn’t made any clear indication about moving away from it.

Making matters worse for the Corker and Flake side, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has openly admitted that Republicans are “gaming the system” with temporary cuts to make the bill appear less costly when, in fact, they hope and expect those cuts will be made permanent—meaning the bill would cost far more than $1.5 trillion.

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