NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Thursday he believes Senate Republican leaders are agreeable to his call to remove a $172 billion investment tax break for the richest Americans from the GOP health care overhaul.
Corker wants to remove the tax cut, worth tens of billions of dollars over the next decade, from the bill to provide adequate subsidies for low-income families purchasing health plans on the insurance changes established under the Affordable Care Act to which Republicans hope to make major changes.
"It's been an issue for some time, and I just don't think it's sustainable to look at lowering taxes on the wealthy and at the same time placing a greater burden on low-income citizens that are on the exchange," the former Chattanooga mayor said in an interview. "I feel it's going to be resolved, and I think that will be a very good step forward."
Both the House GOP-passed bill and the pending Senate measure would eliminate the current law's 3.8 percent tax on net investments. But Corker wants to retain the tax to continue the subsidies for low-income people on the Obamacare's health insurance exchanges.
As legislation is now drafted, Corker said, a family making $12,000 a year would be faced with purchasing an insurance plan that had a $6,000 deductible.
"So that really does them no good," Corker said.
He said he has been raising the concerns with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.
McConnell had hoped to push the bill through the upper chamber this week, but various provisions in his Better Care Reconciliation Act have raised concerns among some Senate GOP moderates and conservatives over various issues.
The Senate Republican bill addressed some issues better than the House measure, Corker said, "but it still doesn't solve the problem low-income citizens across our state have. This bill, still places a bigger burden on them than they had before and a burden that they're really not able to overcome."
Corker said McConnell has been agreeable to addressing the issue.
Asked if his own support for the Senate BCRA measure is dependent on the investment tax provision remaining, Corker said, "I don't want to put it that way. Because I know that leadership has heard me and know others have echoed when I've raised this issue the same concerns."
"They're going to address this issue," Corker said. "There may be some other way for those additional monies to come in." But he continues to think the solution "that likely is to occur is not repealing that tax, and adding to what is in place to help low income citizens actually have plans that are actually workable."
In a 100-member chamber where Republicans have a slim 52-member majority, five GOP senators, including Collins, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have said they would vote against a key procedural motion on the GOP bill. McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican senators' votes with Republican Vice President Mike Pence being able to cast a vote in the event of a tie.
McConnell, who had hoped to have a vote this week, is now faced with putting several proposals, including Corker's, into language and submitting it to the Congressional Budget Office for an analysis on its costs, cuts and impacts, then coming back after the July 4 break to see what, if anything, the GOP can pass.
On Wednesday, a Washington-based think tank, the Urban Institute, released a 50-state look at the impact of the Senate Republican bill.
It projected the number of uninsured non-elderly residents in Tennessee would rise by some 353,000 people, going from the current 726,000 persons, or 12.9 percent of the population, to 1.079 million people, or 19 percent.
The bulk of those affected, some 300,000, would come as a result of proposed changes to the Medicaid program for low-income women and children as well as low-income disabled and senior Tennesseans.
A Tennessee-based group that opposes the Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare welcomed Corker's statement.
"We are relieved that Sen. Corker finally understands that Tennesseans oppose this bill," said Gloria Johnson, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Health Care Security. "Cutting taxes for the wealthy and paying for it by taking health care away from regular people is simply unacceptable to most Tennesseans."
But Johnson also took a slap at Corker for not setting up meetings with constituents during congressional breaks to get home-state views on health care.
"Will the Senator finally come home, hold town halls and listen to experts in his own state?" she asked.
Staff writer Judy Walton contributed to this report.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.