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Partisan politics in DC reaches home in 2017

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., walks to the chamber on Dec. 5, following weekly strategy meetings, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., walks to the chamber on Dec. 5, following weekly strategy meetings, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP, file

Shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January, it was clear that he intended to follow thorough with two of his major campaign promises: to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code. Two of the three federal legislators that represent Centre County offered a helping hand.

It was a year of heavily partisan politics in Washington and as the national conversations made their way back home, U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, and both U.S. senators — Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey — stood firmly with their parties as the legislation was rolled out.

In March, Republican lawmakers introduced the American Health Care Act. Thompson did not initially support the bill, because he said it would increase premiums and create a funding shortfall for long-term care, both of which would have negatively affected older Pennsylvanians.

As the bill made its way through the House, it was estimated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to reduce the federal deficit by almost $350 billion, but in the process, nearly 25 million more Americans would be uninsured. Amendments were made to the bill that addressed Thompson’s concerns and he eventually joined his party. The bill narrowly passed the House in May 217-213, mainly along party lines.

When the bill reached the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that that the Senate would write its own version of the legislation. When it was analyzed, the CBO estimated that about 15 million more people would be uninsured and that number would grow to 22 million by 2026.

Throughout the legislative process, Toomey echoed Trump’s disdain for the ACA, also known as “Obamacare,” and vowed to repeal the law.

Casey’s response was the polar opposite. He commissioned and released a report on the legislation that showed nearly 750,000 people in Pennsylvania would be uninsured by 2026, which included about 6,000 Centre County residents.

The bill included various amendments when it came to the Senate floor for a vote in July and failed to pass. The ACA seemed safe until Republicans released the details of the party’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in early November.

The legislation, which passed both the House and Senate, was strongly supported by Thompson and Toomey. The law does supply temporary tax relief for most Americans by lowering the individual tax rate and nearly doubling the standard deduction. The child tax credit also doubles, which would benefit lower-income families.

The final draft of the plan reveals that 83 percent of the tax benefits go to the top 1 percent of the nation’s earners, according to the Tax Policy Center. However, CBS News notes that figure refers just to the year 2027 and that for the preceding eight years, the vast majority of middle-class taxpayers -- those earning between $49,000 and $86,000 -- will receive a tax cut. In 2018, nine-tenths of the middle class will get a cut, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Corporations will see their tax rate drop 14 percentage points to 21 percent and the bill adds about $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit, according to the CBO.

One of the ways the Republicans plan to pay down the deficit is by repealing the individual mandate of the ACA, which the CBO expects will mean 4 million people could opt out of health insurance in 2019 and the number could grow to 13 million over the next 10 years. This and other provisions of the bill resulted in Casey calling it a “thief in the night.”

2018 is a mid-term election year, which could slow Trump’s efforts to push his agenda, but any major legislation presented is likely to draw a similar partisan response from the Centre County representatives. Keep an eye on the CDT for developments throughout the year.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi

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