House, Senate Republicans Move Toward Expanded Health Credits

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By Colleen Murphy and Laura Davison

House Republicans are finding common ground with their colleagues in the Senate to expand the size of some tax credits in the legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Members ranging from moderate to conservative are saying an amendment expected to be offered by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) would be a worthwhile change to the legislation. He has said the tax credits included in the House bill must be more generous for elderly and low-income individuals—a departure from the hard-right Republicans who have opposed the inclusion of tax credits altogether.

“I think that it’s a prudent thing to take the advanced, refundable tax credit and give it to more of the working poor,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told reporters late March 15. “That’s a pragmatic amendment. If they’re going to have advanced refundables, that’s something I would support.”

Several members of the House Ways and Means Committee also said they’re open to the amendment. The comments are the first public sign of coalescing support in recent days, with many lawmakers criticizing the bill’s tax provisions since its March 6 introduction.

The size of the tax credits in the American Health Care Act, especially for older and lower-income individuals, has been a point of contention. Under the GOP plan, older people can be charged as much as five times more than people in their 20s for health insurance, but the credits for the elderly are only twice as large as those for younger people. The credits are capped at incomes of $75,000 for individuals and $150,00 for joint filers.

After approving the bill earlier in the day with three Republicans voting against it, the House Budget Committee approved a separate motion recommending lawmakers increase the tax credits for low-income individuals. The bill has already passed the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, and is expected to receive a floor vote as soon as the week of March 20 after it is approved by the Rules Committee.

Consensus Building

Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), George Holding (R-N.C.) and Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), members of the Ways and Means Committee, said they are open to changes that ensure the bill can pass.

Reed said he has talked with Thune about the amendment, and “I understand where this criticism is coming from.” Buchanan told Bloomberg BNA that the current structure for tax credits for seniors is “unacceptable.”

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), co-chair of the moderate group of Republicans known as the Tuesday Group, told reporters its members are working on an amendment to make it more generous for the elderly.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged publicly for the first time March 15 that the bill likely needed to be tweaked in order to pass the House. Still, Bloomberg reported March 16 that Ryan has said he’s committed to the core elements of the bill, including the existence of the tax credit.

The White House is pushing for a manager’s amendment that would allow changes to the legislation approved by the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, but Meadows said it’s unlikely that individual members will be able to offer changes.

Many senators, including Thune, would like to see the amendment added to the legislation before it reaches the upper chamber. But House members are likely to be inclined to pass the bill with fewer changes and leave it to the Senate to make the tax credit revision.

“The goal is to get something we can pass out of the House and then let them do what they think is right,” said Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio).

The health care legislation could get a vote on the House floor as early as next week.

With assistance from Alex Ruoff in Washington.

To contact the reporters on this story: Colleen Murphy in Washington at cmurphy@bna.com and Laura Davison in Washington at ldavison@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

For More Information

An analysis of the American Health Care Act is in Section L.

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