Trump Again Wades Into Tax Debate, Suggesting Repeal of Obamacare Mandate

As Republican lawmakers worked on Monday toward a delicate compromise on a $1.5 trillion tax cut, President Trump threw himself back into the discussion, suggesting that Republicans could reduce taxes even further by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most people have health insurance.

After a long day of meetings in the Philippines, Mr. Trump took to Twitter to congratulate House and Senate Republicans for making progress on tax cut legislation during his 12-day trip through Asia. Then he pressed them to change course.

“Now, how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further?” Mr. Trump said, referring to the health law’s mandate that most people have coverage or pay a penalty. “Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?”

Republicans have been navigating a challenging path in their effort to pass the most sweeping overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years by the end of this year. Mr. Trump’s wishes, often expressed on social media, have at times steered the internal deliberations over the bill off course.

Mr. Trump’s latest suggestions came hours before the Senate Finance Committee met to begin its formal “markup” of the tax bill, a process that includes debate about the legislation and the consideration of amendments. The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said on Monday that he hoped the bill would be ready to be considered by the full Senate the week after Thanksgiving.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has called for including the repeal of the individual mandate in the tax bill. Doing so would save more than $300 billion over a decade and would allow Republicans to boast that they took a step forward in dismantling a law that continues to haunt them.

Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said Mr. Trump’s opinion remained a factor as the House tried to pass its own tax bill this week.

“The president has already indicated to me a number of times that he’s really interested in including the individual mandate repeal,” Mr. Brady said. “It remains under consideration.”

Mr. Brady added that he was “very confident” that Republicans had the votes to pass the bill and that while he did not expect major changes to the legislation, there were important differences between the House and Senate bills that must eventually be bridged.

Mr. Trump’s Twitter messages about taxes have at times sowed confusion about the direction he wants to chart for the legislation.

The president said previously that he wanted Republican negotiators to allow for a higher individual tax bracket to make sure that the bill was sufficiently progressive. The House plan would keep a top rate of 39.6 percent for millionaires and the Senate plan has a top rate of 38.5 percent for high earners. But Mr. Trump suggested on Monday that lawmakers lower the top rate to 35 percent while also giving deeper cuts to the middle class.

Last month, lawmakers were considering making changes to 401(k) retirement accounts as a way to raise revenue before Mr. Trump quashed the idea on Twitter.

Although Mr. Trump must sign the eventual legislation, Republican lawmakers have shown a willingness to break with his wishes. Mr. Trump originally called for a 15 percent corporate tax rate, but Senate Republicans appear to have settled on a 20 percent rate that will be delayed by a year. Senate Republicans also have ignored Mr. Trump’s desire to fully eliminate the estate tax and, for now, they have not addressed the special treatment of “carried interest” that gives hedge fund managers and private equity partners lower tax rates on their income.

At the beginning of the Finance Committee’s markup, which is expected to last several days, the panel’s chairman, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, offered a pre-emptive defense of the bill, both in terms of substance and process.

Mr. Hatch dismissed Democrats’ complaints, based on an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation, that the bill would raise taxes on millions of middle-class families, saying critics were “missing the forest for the trees.”

“The talking point is that 13 million families in the middle class will see their taxes go up next year if the bill becomes law,” Mr. Hatch said. But, he said, critics should focus on the 90 percent of the middle class that would see a tax cut or no change under the bill.

He also suggested that the Senate bill would keep the corporate rate cut permanent as Republicans amend the bill in the coming days to comply with special budget rules that will protect it from a Democratic filibuster.

“There’s no real cause for concern at this point,” Mr. Hatch said. “But I do want to make clear that we’re looking at a number of alternatives that will fill the necessary gaps and we have every intention of making the business reforms permanent.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee, warned that Republicans had drawn up legislation that would hurt millions of middle-class taxpayers.

Because Republicans are planning to pass the bill under the rules that shield it from a filibuster, “they’ve got to squeeze several trillion dollars of tax handouts and corporate goodies into a $1.5 trillion box,” Mr. Wyden said. “That means telling the middle class in America to pay up.”

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