From Arctic tundra to church, here's what else GOP tax bills might change
Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias December 4, 2017

The heft of the Republican tax bills lower taxes for individuals in the early years while disproportionately benefiting wealthy taxpayers and corporations.

Tucked into the legislation from both chambers, however, are measures with consequences for the environment, health care, churches and abortion rights.

As negotiators from the House and Senate prepare to hash out the final bill to send to President Donald Trump, we decided to unpack a few notable provisions tucked into each bill that didn’t receive as much attention.

Oil drilling in Alaska

The Senate tax bill opens 1.57 million acres of coastal Alaskan tundra -- in the largest wildlife refuge in the United States -- to oil and gas exploration. The drilling is expected to rake in $1 billion to the federal government over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The region has been closed to drilling, unless authorized by Congress, since 1980.

The section was introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, but was not included in the House version.

ACA individual mandate

Technically, the requirement for Americans to carry health insurance is a "tax," as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in upholding the law. But the Senate’s decision to eliminate the Obamacare individual mandate would have an enormous effect on the health care industry, as Americans could choose to not purchase health insurance without fear of penalty.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted an increase of 4 million uninsured Americans by 2019 and 13 million by 2027, along with a 10 percent annual hike in insurance premiums.

The individual mandate penalty falls disproportionately on lower- and moderate-income households.

The House version doesn’t mention the individual mandate.

Abortion rights

College savings accounts, which are not taxed, could be opened explicitly for unborn children under the House bill. Under the bill, an unborn child is defined as a "child in utero," or "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb."

The provision doesn’t enable college-fund savers to do anything they can’t already do for future children. But experts told us the language might erode abortion access in the future.

The Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, said: "It's a small increment in the momentum that we're building to ensure that one day every child is welcomed and protected under the law."

The Senate bill doesn’t include the unborn children language.

The Johnson Amendment

The House tax bill repeals the Johnson Amendment, a 1950s-era law that bans churches from endorsing political candidates.

The original law prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofits from engaging in certain political activities, but the new bill allows churches to keep their tax-exempt status regardless of statements about political candidates made during religious services.

The Senate bill leaves the Johnson Amendment in place.

Professional football?

The Senate bill also removes "professional football leagues" from the description of 501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations, a long term goal of Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

This would codify into law something the National Football League has had in place for a few years; it dropped its tax-exempt status in 2015.

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Our Sources

PolitiFact, The House and Senate tax bills, explained, Nov. 28, 2017

Email interview with Julia Lawless, communications director for Senate Finance Committee  Chairman Orrin Hatch, Dec. 4, 2017

Email interview with Nicole Daigle, communications director for Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Dec. 4, 2017

FWS.gov, Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1980

CBO.gov, A Legislative Proposal Related to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Nov. 8, 2017

CBO.gov, Repealing the Individual Health Insurance Mandate: An Updated Estimate, Nov. 8, 2017

Washington Post, The Senate just passed a massive tax bill. Here’s what is in it, Nov. 30, 2017

The Atlantic, The GOP Tax Bill Could Forever Alter Alaska’s Indigenous Tribes, Dec. 2, 2017

PolitiFact, The House tax bill contains language about unborn children, but is it an attempt to ban abortion? Nov. 22, 2017

PBS Newshour, What we found in the new Senate tax bill, Dec. 1, 2017

PolitiFact, Is the NFL getting 'massive tax breaks,' as Donald Trump said? Oct. 12, 2017

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From Arctic tundra to church, here's what else GOP tax bills might change