Sen. Murkowski hasn't ruled out voting for tax bill with Obamacare mandate repeal

Tuesday we learned that the GOP had decided to add repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the tax bill which is still under consideration in the Senate. The immediate question was whether the same Senators who balked at various iterations of Obamacare repeal would also consider repeal of the mandate a deal breaker. One of those Senators being closely watched is Lisa Murkowski. Earlier today, Murkowski told Roll Call that her vote on the tax bill would depend on Alexander-Murray, a bipartisan plan which would restore cost-sharing payments to insurers.

“I think that there is a path and I think the path is a reasonable path,” Murkowski said of her support for the measure. “If the Congress is going to move forward with repeal of the individual mandate, we absolutely must have the Alexander-Murray piece that is passed into law.”

Without such a measure — which would, among other things, appropriate money for so-called cost-sharing subsidies — Murkowski says middle-class Americans may not receive the kind of tax relief the GOP is aiming to provide.

“There is a path forward. It just means that some who have said some nasty things about CSRs are maybe just going to have to acknowledge that, well, this might be the way that you thread this needle,” she said. “If that tax cut is offset by higher premiums, you haven’t delivered benefit.”

So it seemed pretty clear Murkowski was saying the GOP could only have her vote to repeal the mandate if cost-sharing payments resumed. But later on Friday, Murkowski backed away from that. In a statement posted on Facebook she wrote that the passage of Alexander-Murray was not necessarily a precondition for her vote on the tax bill:

I have consistently said that passing Alexander/Murray is important to stabilizing the individual market and it may be particularly so if the individual mandate is repealed as included in the draft reported by the Senate Finance Committee last night.

However, one should not assume this is a precondition for my support for the tax bill.

Like many of my colleagues, I am reviewing the good work of the Finance Committee over the Thanksgiving Holiday. I plan to look at the entire package before coming to any conclusion on the legislation.

So if we’re reading the tea leaves here, it seems that Murkowski is 1) leaving her options as open as possible and 2) not ruling out voting for the tax bill containing the individual mandate repeal even if cost-sharing payments aren’t part of that bargain (though she still believes that would be better). Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain had some positive comments about the tax bill today. From Business Insider:

“I applaud Chairman Hatch and the Senate Finance Committee in taking another step forward in providing much-needed tax relief for hardworking American families,” McCain said in a statement. “I am pleased that the Finance Committee has followed the regular order by holding numerous hearings and spending four days debating the bill and considering amendments in committee.”

One of McCain’s primary gripes during the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was that his fellow Republicans were circumventing the regular order by which the Senate does its business. McCain ultimately voted against the “skinny repeal” effort in June, and his disapproval of a subsequent bill spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy helped derail that as well.

So Sen. McCain seems to be happy, at least for the moment, and Sen. Murkowski seems to have retracted her concern somewhat. What about the third musketeer? Sen. Collins has expressed concern about including mandate repeal in the tax bill. This obviously isn’t a done deal yet but there’s at least some reason to think it could work out differently than last time. We’ll know more after Thanksgiving.