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Republicans are worried about individual mandate enforcement after they've repealed it. Photo: Andrew Harrer / Getty Images

The GOP has been touting its repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, one of the least popular pieces of the law. Yet this tax season, mandate enforcement is actually ramping up — and the White House is nervous about it.

Between the lines: This year, taxpayers will have to tell the IRS whether they had health care coverage — and pay a penalty if they didn't. Some Republicans worry the enforcement could awkwardly clash with their messaging about the mandate being gone.

The issue: Since the ACA was enacted, the IRS had accepted "silent returns" — tax returns with the section indicating whether a person has ACA-compliant health insurance left blank.

  • This year is the first time that taxpayers must fill out the section in order for the IRS to accept their returns.
  • There were about 8 million silent returns filed for tax year 2016, according to the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

The White House is worried. "There’s a sense within the White House of, 'Why would we penalize Americans for the first time for a policy — a vestige of the Obama era — that we fought tooth and nail to undo. This isn’t our legacy & we shouldn’t own it or make the American people,'" a White House official told me.

Messaging problems: The individual mandate repeal is already complicated, and there are messaging problems even without the new reporting mandate.

  • A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that only 36% of the public is aware Congress repealed the mandate.
  • Although the White House has been touting repeal now, it doesn't take effect until 2019 — meaning people won't see the difference on their tax forms until 2020, when they file their 2019 returns.
  • “This can all get really confusing if the messaging isn’t clear. I think the messaging thus far is just that we got rid of the individual mandate," said Lanhee Chen, a GOP strategist and health care expert. "It may create some expectations that can't be fulfilled because of the way the law was written.”

On the other hand, here's American Action Forum President Doug Holtz-Eakin on the end of silent returns: “I think it’ll be a non-issue. I really do. If [Congress] think[s] it’s a big enough deal, they should pass legislation" to end enforcement.

Go deeper

DOJ cites discrimination in lawsuit against Texas over voting districts

Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Department of Justice on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas, alleging Republican state lawmakers discriminated against Black and Latino voters and has "again diluted the voting strength of minority Texans" when they approved new redistricting maps.

Why it matters: A DOJ assessment of the new districts found that they violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a press conference.

3 hours ago - World

Biden to warn Putin U.S. will add troops in Eastern Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. announces diplomatic boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

An Olympic-themed sculpture in Beijing on Dec. 1. Photo: Hou Yu/China News Service via Getty Images

The U.S. announced Monday that it will not send officials to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in protest of human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The diplomatic boycott — which won't prevent American athletes from competing — marks a major escalation between the U.S. and China amid already heightened tensions over the CCP's treatment of Muslim minorities, military threats to Taiwan and economic tariffs.