WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Tuesday said he planned to offer an amendment to the fast-moving tax cut that would repeal a key provision in the Affordable Care Act, posing a major test for Republicans as they try to secure a major legislative victory.
His comments, made in a series of Twitter posts, could spur the first major intraparty fight over the tax cut bill in the Senate.
Paul also plans to propose allowing Americans to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes from their federal income, a change that Senate GOP leaders have so far rejected.
Paul said he would seek to amend a tax bill written by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, "to repeal the individual mandate and provide bigger tax cuts for middle income taxpayers."
President Donald Trump as recently as Monday called on Congress to include a similar change, though GOP lawmakers have so far been lukewarm to the idea, worried that adding a health care change to a tax bill could splinter the party and cause the tax plan to collapse.
Several Republicans earlier this year rejected the GOP effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with some saying there should be a bipartisan approach and others worried about the unintended consequences of a rapid change.
Republicans hold just a 52-48 majority in the Senate, and so the defection of just a few members could imperil legislation. They are trying to pass the tax cut bill through a process known as reconciliation, which means they only need a majority of support to pass the bill.
The individual mandate is a provision of the Affordable Care Act that creates penalties if Americans don't have health insurance as a way to incentivize people to purchase coverage. Repealing this mandate would strip away a central component of the law, and it would also save more than $300 billion over 10 years. Trump has said that money should be used to offset lowering the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans down to 35 percent.
Paul, in his Twitter post on Tuesday, suggested the savings should be focused on providing more tax cuts to the middle class.
Importantly, Paul has not revealed whether he would oppose the tax cut bill if his amendment is not accepted. But he suggested in his Twitter posts that there were problems in the Senate bill that need to be fixed.
He said in a separate Twitter post Tuesday that his "amendment will fix a problem in the Senate bill where many taxpayers would see a tax increase because of the loss of state and local deduction."
In a tax-cut bill that the House of Representatives could approve as soon as Thursday, Americans would be permitted to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes from their federal taxable income. They would no longer be permitted to deduct their state income taxes from their federal income, but the property tax provision was meant as a way to assuage complaints that Americans in high-tax states like New York and New Jersey would be protected from some of the changes.
Senate Republicans had so far tried to avoid the House concession, convinced they didn't need to make it because there were not Senate Republicans in New Jersey or New York who might threaten to oppose the bill. But Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have said more should be done in the Senate bill to ensure that all Americans receive a tax cut, not just some.
So far, most estimates have found that a majority of Americans would see their taxes go down under the House and Senate tax bills, but millions of Americans would still see an increase.
The Senate Finance Committee is debating its version of the tax bill this week, and Republicans hope to approve it within a day.
Paul is not a member of the Senate Finance Committee, but he could offer his amendments during a debate on the Senate floor as soon as the week after Thanksgiving.
The House and Senate must pass matching versions of the tax cut bill before they can be signed into law by Trump.
Republicans are hopeful they can pass the tax cut bill by early December, when they have a number of other issues they need to resolve and face the prospect of losing a Senate seat because of the special election in Alabama.