Axing the Tan Tax

If Benjamin Franklin’s adage is true that nothing is certain but death and taxes, then it should also be said that eliminating a tax is virtually next to impossible.

And yet, after four years and more than 1,200 meetings with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, the American Suntanning Association’s cornerstone lobbying objective – repealing the devastating 10 percent Tan Tax – is one Senate vote, conference committee and presidential signature away from being history. That’s because the U.S. House of Representatives voted May 4 to repeal the Tan Tax as part of the American Health Care Act of 2017.

There’s work left to do, but the Tan Tax is closer to the scrap heap than ever. What had to happen to make the impossible possible?

“The amount of effort that went into putting us in this position is beyond colossal,” ASA President Melinda Norton said. “The ASA federal lobbying team – both staff and volunteers – has put tens-of-thousands of hours into telling our story on Capitol Hill: that the tax failed as a revenue producer for Obamacare, closed more than 9,000 businesses, killed 95,000 jobs and pushed those who wish to use sunbeds into non-salon tanning where sunburn was more likely. Congress understands: It’s hard to imagine any other way the tax could have been a failure.”

Repealing the Tan Tax via Republican health care reform proposals was anything less than certain. The Tan Tax represented about one-tenth-of-one percent of funding in the Affordable Care Act – hardly anything that would call attention to itself without substantial effort.

But three full-time ASA staff lobbyists and dozens of salon volunteers – supported by ASA staff that put together the industry’s strong case – have been knocking down doors on Capitol Hill for four years.

“This would not have happened simply because President Trump is in the White House,” Norton explained. “We had to be relentless to convince Congressional leadership that our case was worthy of their attention. That took a full-court press.”

And that press is paying off. On April 4 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the repeal of the Tan Tax as part of the American Health Care Act of 2017, the replacement of Obamacare. In this House version the Tan Tax will be repealed effective December 31, 2017. This vote is very encouraging but only the first step in the legislative process.  The bill will now move to the Senate where it is likely to be amended and will then return to the House.

The ASA advocacy team will continue to fight for the Tan Tax repeal to remain in the bill as it moves through the legislative process and hopefully to the desk of President Trump.

How did the Tan Tax repeal make it into the bill? ASA’s efforts from 2013-15 paved the way. In 2015, U.S. Rep. George Holding (R-North Carolina) and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) introduced 2015 HR 2698 — a stand-alone bill to repeal the Tan Tax. After hundreds more meetings at the Capitol, ASA lobbying efforts convince 112 co-sponsors from both parties – a large number for any piece of legislation – to sign onto the bill as co-sponsors and Congress passes the bill as part of a health care reform measure known as Reconciliation and sent it to President Obama’s Desk in December 2016.

President Obama vetoed that bill – part of a larger proposed reform of Obamacare. But by passing in both the House and Senate, Congress had “vetted” the Tan Tax – greasing the wheels for this year’s repeal efforts.

In February, Rep. Holding and Rep. Peterson re-introduced HR 1150 — a stand-alone bill to repeal the Tan Tax. That’s the reason the repeal is in the larger health care bill – or why it would be attached to any of several other pieces of legislation this year.

“The efforts from 2013-16 are the reason we are in this bill in 2016,” Norton said. “There isn’t a member of Congress who doesn’t know that the American tanning salon market has been targeted unfairly, that we have a story to tell not only about taxes, but also about the science supporting non-burning UV exposure.”

How high has ASA raised the profile of the Tan Tax? Consider: When the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee spent 14 hours debating the American Health Care Act in March, 90 minutes of that debate was on The Tan Tax. So a tax representing less than one-tenth-of-one-percent of projected revenue in Obamacare took up more than 10 percent of the discussion.

And while the Trump administration has opened the door for political change, the work the ASA has been doing in recent years is why the industry is poised to take advantage of the opportunity. Without fighting for the repeal of the Tan Tax in thousands of meetings on Capitol Hill and educating countless politicians on the merits of the industry in general, these changes wouldn’t be on the table, regardless of who is President or director of any agency.

“Over the past four years, we’ve built widespread support in Congress,” ASA Immediate Past President Bart Bonn says. “Without informing them of our plight, our concerns are not on their radar. We’ve basically made a lot of friends over the years. We’ve also gone to the agencies in the last two years and saw what kind of a wall stood before us. Now, through our extended relationship reach, we’ll be able to get into those agencies and explain our situation to the new administration.”

Among the hundreds of politicians the ASA has educated about the industry are two former congressmen who will now hold important positions in the Trump administration. One is former Georgia Representative Tom Price, who was appointed as the head of the Health and Human Services Department by Trump. Price has already expressed his support for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. Another receptive leader is former Congressman and Indiana Governor, and now Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence.

“Without ASA’s hard work, theses leaders wouldn’t even know about us,” Bonn says.

Keeping our presence in Washington D.C. will be key to keeping the Tan Tax off of the docket again. Once repealed, it will take a continued effort on Capital Hill to ensure that the tax is not reinstated through a new bill after it is presumably repealed. According to Bonn, there will be legislation and taxes to replace aspects of the Affordable Care Act that are repealed. However, the political relationships the ASA has cultivated over the past several years should ensure that the industry doesn’t find itself in the same position as when it lacked a proper presence in Washington, when the Tan Tax was originally included in the ACA.