Las Vegas Sun

November 19, 2017

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IRS scandal reopens rift over Obamacare; Nevada lawmakers entangled


Steve Marcus

Sen. Harry Reid whispers to Sen. Dean Heller during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City on Monday, May 30, 2011.

With just over six months to go until the Affordable Care Act is online, Congress was supposed to be done arguing over repeals and instead focus on making sure the system rolls out on schedule.

But the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups has opened a rift in time, pitching many members of Congress back to standoff stances from 2010 and pitting members of a Nevada delegation that had supposedly buried the hatchet against each other once again.

On one side is Sen. Dean Heller, who wrote the bill expressing the Republicans’ fresh resistance to turning over health care policing to an IRS plagued with partisan scandal. On the other side is Sen. Harry Reid, whose job is to make sure nothing stymies progress on President Barack Obama’s plans.

But this isn’t a simple instance of arm-wrestling between Reid and Heller — of which there have been many since their co-occupancy of the Senate began. (Judicial nominees, anyone? With a side of online poker perhaps?)

The IRS scandal comes at a particularly vulnerable moment for the health care law. As the clock ticks toward Jan. 1, even top Democrats are publicly wringing their hands, worrying that Obamacare won’t flourish unless absolutely everything goes according to plan.

“Max said, ‘Unless we implement this properly, it’s going to be a train wreck,’ and I agree with him,” Reid said on “The Rusty Humphries Show” this month. (Max is Max Baucus, the Senate Finance committee chairman who, with Reid, was the force behind drafting and passing the health care law.)

Stripping the IRS of $440 million — as Heller wants to do “until it is clearer where this funding will go” — is not exactly a minor hiccup in Reid’s plans: That money funds the IRS agents who will handle doling out health care tax credits to eligible individuals and small businesses, and imposing tax penalties on those who don’t purchase health insurance.

Reid is pretty much guaranteed to do everything in his power to keep Heller’s bill from being considered by, much less passed by, the Senate.

Nonetheless, a renewed fight is also guaranteed as the IRS scandal evolves.

Last week, reports emerged that the IRS official who had run the office that improperly singled out conservative groups now runs the IRS’ health care office — a revelation that only reinforces Heller’s call to inspect the IRS-ACA link.

Heller, who had said late last year that he was done trying to delay the ACA from moving forward, is now back in the game.

Over in the House, meanwhile, Republican leaders held a 37th vote to repeal the ACA on Thursday, during which they managed to bring Republicans who had begun to tire of such political posturing — such as Nevada’s Joe Heck — back to the party fold.

In March, Heck was one of 10 House Republicans to vote against Paul Ryan’s budget because it didn’t replace the parts of the ACA it sought to repeal; last Thursday, not a single Republican who voted defected from the party line.

It might not matter that the latest scandal is losing the White House a cadre of reasonable Republicans if congressional Democrats are able to stanch the political bleeding and keep Obamacare intact.

But if there were two things that poisoned the well of congressional politics for the past few years, they were bickering over health care and over how to correct the budget deficit. One of those was supposed to be resolved, but no longer — and Nevada’s own are at the epicenter of the unraveling.

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