U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Georgia 12th District, hopes Congress will vote next week on two major pieces of legislation: the Graham-Cassidy Republican replacement for “Obamacare” and a budget that will help set the stage for tax reform.
While on a tour of farms and agribusinesses in the district for input on the five-year 2018 Farm Bill, Allen visited the Statesboro Herald for a conversation that focused more on next week’s issues. A vehement critic of the previous administration and Democrats generally during his 2014 and 2016 campaigns, Allen now expresses a need for the parties to work together, especially on tax reform.
“I think we need bipartisan support, and here’s the deal,” Allen said. “If we send a bill over there that’s bipartisan to the Senate with 300 votes, they’ve got to take it up. But see, we sent health care over there that barely got passed … and it’s all partisan.”
The House passed the bill known as American Health Care Act of 2017 in May by just a four-vote margin, 217-213. One version of a Senate-amended version, nicknamed “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, failed in the Senate 49-51 in June. More recently, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, have sponsored the version that Allen hopes will come to a vote next week.
Since the original bill was handled as a budget reconciliation measure, the Senate could pass the amended version with only a 51-vote majority. However, the bill’s reconciliation status expires Sept. 30. So after next week, the bill would die in its current form and a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, would require 60 votes. There are only 52 Republican senators.
If the Senate passes the bill, the House would still have to agree to the final version.
“So the Senate hopefully is going to send something to us we can conference on and we can help the American people,” Allen said. “We need to lower premiums, we need to restore the doctor-patient relationship, we need insurance companies competing for our business, and in conference I would hope that we would reach agreement on those things.”
Graham’s proposal would eliminate both the individual mandate, which requires Americans to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty, and the mandate requiring larger employers to offer health insurance.
Medicaid would be changed to a block-grant program to the states based on their population. Federal subsidies for buying health insurance would end, but states could choose to create subsidies.
Allen supports creating a refundable tax credit, ranging from $2,500 to $7,000, for people who buy their own health insurance. Rewarding people with incentives is an approach he always preferred as a business owner, he said.
“We’ve got six and half million people that are paying the penalty on Obamacare right now,” Allen said. “We’re going to have more doing that, because it’s not insurance.”
Many among the more than 20 million people who have obtained insurance through the ACA exchanges actually have policies with $5,000 to $7,000 deductibles, “and that’s not health insurance,” he asserted.
Before tax reform
Allen said he wants to move on to tax reform, but that addressing health care is an important first step.
“The reason we took on health care first is because with tax reform we hope to put $4,000 to $6,000 in people’s pockets, and we didn’t want them to have to turn right around and write it to an insurance company because your premium just went up,” he said.
Also next week, the House is slated to vote on a budget that includes about $200 billion in mandatory spending cuts, Allen said. The version he supports will restore work requirements for receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits. As Allen notes, SNAP previously included work requirements, but a majority of states, including Georgia, accepted waivers from these requirements during President Barack Obama’s administration.
America has “6.5 million jobs out there right now, good paying jobs,” Allen said. The U.S. Department of Labor reported 6.2 million job openings nationwide at the end of August.
“Tax reform will be a part of creating more of those good jobs,” he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed a single-page tax return the size of a postcard. It includes lines for gross pay, the home-mortgage interest deduction and the charitable donation deduction, as well as a space for the total tax based on the tax bracket, Allen said.
Versions from the Ryan postcard-return available online also show the child credit, earned income credit and higher-education credit.
The mortgage deduction will be preserved because there probably wouldn’t be enough votes in Congress to pass the reform proposal without it, even though most people in lower tax brackets see little benefit from this deduction, Allen said.
In the form proposed by President Donald Trump, the Republican plan would reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three.
“There has to be” bipartisan support for tax reform, Allen said, but he acknowledged that Republicans and Democrats have different ideas about how to distribute the tax burden.
“Where the disagreement is going to be is in the brackets,” he said. “I think we’re going to be heavier on the middle- income tax relief, and I think that they’re going to agree to that, but then they’re going to want to add to the higher income, I mean they’re going to want to increase rates, probably, there.”
Critics assert that tax cuts in the Republican proposal could add $1.5 trillion or more to the national debt over the next 10 years. Allen, who during his 2016 campaign emphasized reducing the debt, argues that this can be done in that decade by growing the economy and controlling spending, but he also says it will require new discipline from Congress.
Trump’s debt deal
He approved of Trump’s recent deal with Democrats to extend the federal debt ceiling to December, over objections from some key Republican lawmakers. This allowed Congress to move forward on a disaster relief package after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and while Hurricane Irma was approaching Florida.
“It’s the smartest thing he’s ever done,” Allen said. “How he has the ability to look down the road – Oh, my goodness! – because you know a hundred Republicans voted against that. He didn’t have the votes to extend the debt ceiling. He had no choice.”
The president, after “some really, really naughty things” Democratic leaders have said about him, demonstrated that he “has no political vitriol,” Allen said.
He voted for the debt ceiling extension.
“Oh yeah,” Allen said. “Man, I’ve got a hurricane staring me right in the face. You think I’m going to ignore that? No way. Now it does come up again in December, by the way, and yes, I want to tie that debt limit to something that can discipline us so that we’ll be accountable to get us in a balanced budget.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.