By (Bernie Becker)

Republican senators are strongly considering adding a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate to a new version of their tax bill, with several key swing votes saying they’re open to the idea.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of three GOP senators who voted down the Obamacare repeal effort this summer, said repealing the mandate is not a deal-breaker for securing his vote.

“I want to see the whole package – it keeps changing as it goes through the House and Senate,” McCain said. “I want the regular order.”

Republicans are discussing their options at a closed-door party lunch meeting Tuesday. The GOP views repealing the mandate as both a down payment on its campaign pledge to undo Obamacare and a source of revenue: repeal would generate $338 billion to help pay for tax reform.

Repealing the requirement most Americans have insurance would have an effect on the health insurance markets, although not as big of one as health economists once predicted. The Congressional Budget Office said this week that repeal would result in 4 million people losing their health insurance in the first year and 13 million in a decade.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch is expected to release a new version of the Senate tax bill as soon as this afternoon.

“I’ve never been enthused about the mandate,” Hatch told POLITICO on his way into the meeting without elaborating on whether repeal would be in the bill.

Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, both of whom have announced that they won’t seek reelection next year, separately said they would support repealing the mandate if it helps get the tax bill done.

“I’m fine with it,” Corker said. “I would hope that if we do and there is real money there, that we use it as a buffer against any deficit in the first 10 years.”

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said Tuesday that he would introduce an amendment on the Senate floor to undermine the mandate.

Because of arcane Senate rules, Republicans cannot technically repeal the mandate. Instead, they would change the fines to $0, which would have the same effect as repeal.

The House did not include repeal of the mandate in its bill, which is slated to get a vote later this week.

John Bresnahan and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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Read more here: Senate GOP strongly considering mandate repeal as part of tax bill

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