Senator Lisa Murkowski was praised on the left when she became one of three Republicans to vote down the Obamacare “skinny repeal” in July. But on Tuesday, she explained that doesn’t mean she’s opposed to ending the Affordable Care Act’s individual insurance mandate, which would lead to 13 million fewer people having health insurance and drive up premiums for a significant number of Americans by 10 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Senate Republicans included a repeal of the Obamacare mandate in their tax “reform” plan, since they need a way to pay for corporate tax cuts. Once again, they can only spare two votes, and it appears Murkowski will be crucial. Senator Susan Collins, who joined Murkowski in opposing “skinny repeal,” said she wants to see changes in her party’s legislation and called the repeal provision “the biggest mistake.” In a surprise move, conservative Senator Ron Johnson declared he could not support the bill because tax cuts for pass-through businesses aren’t generous enough. Johnson has hinted that he may come around, as he did on Obamacare repeal, but deficit hawks have been complaining about the bill, too.
In an op-ed for the Daily News-Miner, an Alaskan newspaper, Murkowski laid out her reasons for supporting a repeal of the Obamacare mandate. “I have always supported the freedom to choose. 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,” she said, noting that Alaskans paid $21 million in penalties to the IRS in 2014 and 2015. “Eliminating this tax would allow Alaskans to have greater control over their money and health care decisions,” she added.
The senator went on to claim that getting rid of the individual mandate just “restores to people the freedom to choose” and does nothing to people who want to keep Obamacare — ignoring that the entire system starts breaking down if younger, healthier people decide to go without insurance.
This is an encouraging sign for Republicans, who are rushing to pass tax reform before a Democrat or an unpredictable, scandal-plagued Republican claims an Alabama Senate seat next month. However, a Murkowski spokesperson told Politico that this doesn’t necessarily mean the senator will support the tax legislation.
“Senator Murkowski said on Friday that she will be reviewing the work of the Finance Committee over the Thanksgiving holiday and plans to look at the entire package before coming to any conclusion on the legislation,” the spokesperson said.
Republican senators will probably be on edge this Thanksgiving, but with all the legislative drama recently, they’re probably used to it.