Politics Sen. Susan Collins takes huge leap of faith with tax bill. Critics say she’s getting played.
With Tax Overhaul, Maine Sen. Collins Stretches Her Political Powers
Maine Sen. Susan Collins became a most high-profile example of a growing group of female lawmakers making their mark on legislation.Last week, as her Republican colleagues inched toward passage of a $1.4 trillion tax bill, she tested that theory and brokered some of the most significant last-minute changes to the measure in exchange for her vote.
As GOP tax legislation nears final passage on Capitol Hill, Sen. Susan Collins is approaching the moment for a mighty leap of faith.
The Maine Republican extracted key concessions in exchange for her support for the bill, including commitments from the Trump administration and Senate leaders to back two pieces of legislation pumping money into the health-care system.
The problem is, House Republicans largely oppose the health-care bills. And while Collins anticipates that the commitments will be included in must-pass spending legislation to keep the government open, the tax package is scheduled for a final passage vote next week, before the spending measure.
If Moore is elected, Sen. Collins says senators will face "tough decision"
"I think it's a different situation if the allegations are not known, or if they occur while the person is sitting in the Senate," explained Collins on SundaySen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, says lawmakers will face a "tough decision" regarding overturning "the will of the people" if Alabama Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore wins his state's special election this coming Tuesday in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
That means Collins will have to cast her vote on the tax bill without knowing for certain that commitments made to her will be honored, leading critics to say she's getting played for a fool.
If she prevails, Collins will have been responsible for the passage of significant legislation that could help make insurance coverage more affordable for tens of thousands of Americans.
And if not?
"I'm counting on the administration to make sure that does not happen," Collins said in an interview. "I would consider it a very serious breach of a promise to me."
"And," Collins added with a laugh, "they don't want to do that."
Indeed, with the fourth-term senator poised to play an even more pivotal role in the Senate next year, she might be among the last people President Trump or Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wants to alienate.
A Doug Jones win could be the beginning of the end of tax reform
+ Doug Jones and - Susan Collins = real trouble for the GOP’s big tax overhaul.But looming over the final steps in the legislation is the possibility that it could all fall apart. The worst-case scenario for Republicans — and the only plausible path for opponents to stop a dramatically unpopular tax proposal — revealed itself.
One of the few remaining moderate Republicans in the Senate, the 65-year-old Collins has repeatedly used her vote to sway outcomes and shape the debate on issues from nominations to health care to the environment. She passed up a run for Maine governor earlier this year even though she would have been the instant front-runner, saying she believed her influence was best wielded from the Senate floor.
Because of the upset win by Democrat Doug Jones in a special Senate election in Alabama on Tuesday, the GOP's already slim 52-48 Senate majority will dwindle to 51-49 next year. That will only increase Collins' influence, giving the diligent lawmaker a pivotal role in every legislative fight for the remainder of Trump's first term and beyond.
"The closer your margins between majority and minority, there is a greater role for those who are very deliberate in how they're moving forward, who are working with both sides of the aisle in a very clear and demonstrated way," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Collins' close friend who sometimes joins with her to oppose fellow Republicans. "And I think that Sen. Collins does exactly that."
How Sen. Marco Rubio’s child tax credit could be the final big GOP tax fight
Any last-minute tax bill drama will likely come from these senators.The proposal gives corporations and pass-through businesses, like LLCs and partnerships, a massive tax break, makes changes to the individual rates that largely benefit America’s wealthiest, and repeals the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which taxed people for not buying health insurance.
Collins, Murkowski and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) were the three Republicans who killed the GOP's efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, driving a stake through seven years of their party's promises to undo former president Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement.
When she returned home to Maine after casting that pivotal vote, Collins was greeted as a hero. Passengers in the Bangor airport broke into applause when she stepped off her plane, a scene Collins later described as "heartwarming and affirming."
The reaction at home to her stance on the tax legislation has been quite different. The tax bill, which increases the deficit while delivering huge benefits to corporations and the wealthy, polls poorly and has sparked repeated protests against Collins. Students have staged sit-ins while religious leaders were arrested after occupying one of her offices.
After Collins' votes against the "Obamacare" repeal, some Maine residents have struggled to understand why she would support a tax bill that slashes corporate rates while repealing the Affordable Care Act's mandate for most Americans to carry health insurance or pay fines. The individual mandate repeal is expected to result in 13 million more uninsured Americans, and health care advocates say that even if they do end up becoming law, the health bills Collins supports will not make up for that.
Final GOP tax bill repeals ObamaCare mandate
The final Republican tax-reform bill unveiled Friday repeals ObamaCare's individual insurance mandate, leaving the GOP poised to blow a significant hole in the health-care law next week.The change, which takes effect in 2019, removes one of the least popular parts of ObamaCare, but one that many experts warn is necess ary to make the law function smoothly.Without a mandate, there is less incentive for healthy people to enroll and balance out the costs of the sick. That is expected to lead to premium increases and could lead insurers to drop out of markets, potentially leaving some areas of the country with no coverage options.
"It's the last vote that counts. You can say 'no' 53 times in a row but if the 54th is the 'yes' that puts the thing over the line, that's going to be your legacy," said Steve Butterfield, policy director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care in Augusta, Maine.
In this case, Butterfield added, Collins' legacy would be millions of Americans losing their health insurance.
"It's absolutely unbelievable," he said.
Collins counters that she has never liked the individual mandate, because it forces consumers to buy a product they may not want, and the fines on abstainers fall disproportionately on people who make less than $50,000 a year. She draws a distinction between the individual mandate repeal in the tax legislation, and the earlier GOP health bills that she opposed, which in addition to the mandate repeal also kicked millions of people off Medicaid, which serves the poor, among other changes.
"There's a big difference between forcing someone to buy insurance that they deem unaffordable versus taking away from people insurance that they already have, need and want," Collins said, "which is what the health care bills last summer would have done."
Nonetheless, Collins opposed including the mandate repeal in the tax legislation, saying the issues should be addressed separately. Once GOP leaders decided to include it, partly because it raised nearly $340 billion in revenue they could use to lower taxes for corporations and make other changes, Collins began arguing that other health care legislation would be needed to stabilize insurance markets and keep premiums from spiking. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the individual mandate repeal would lead to premiums rising 10 percent in the individual insurance market.
Republican U.S. Senator Collins says she will vote for tax bill
Republican U.S. Senator Susan Collins said on Monday she would vote for the sweeping tax overhaul her party's leaders hope to push through Congress this week, all but ensuring its passage despite seemingly universal opposition from Democrats. "The first major overhaul of our tax code since 1986, this legislation will provide tax relief to working families, encourage the creation of jobs right here in America and spur economic growth that will benefit all Americans," she said in remarks on the Senate floor.
One of the bills Collins supports, authored by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), restores so-called cost-sharing reduction payments that help insurers reduce costs for lower-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act. Congressional Republicans had challenged the federal payments in court during the Obama administration, and Trump decided in October to stop making them.
The other bill Collins co-authored with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to create a $10 billion "reinsurance" program that states could draw on over two years to set up high-risk pools that lower costs for patients who are particularly hard to insure.
In addition to pushing for the health care bills Collins negotiated several other changes to the tax legislation, including preserving taxpayers' ability to deduct medical expenses, and allowing them to deduct up to $10,000 in state and local taxes from their federal tax bill. Those changes were included in the tax legislation itself, instead of relying on the promise of future action by Congress.
Collins moves on the health bills have been met with skepticism if not downright ridicule from critics who note that she has already backed off her call for the health legislation to pass before the tax bill. Instead, she now says the health bills must pass by the end of this year, pointing to a written pledge from McConnell and to verbal commitments from administration officials including Vice President Pence and Trump himself.
Some Democrats argue those promises will not amount to much.
Key senators sold their votes on the tax bill for some high-risk deals
There’s no guarantee House Republicans will go along with the deals Susan Collins and Jeff Flake struck in the Senate.Compared to the last-minute Senate drama during the attempt to repeal Obamacare this summer, the GOP tax bill sailed through the chamber late Friday night.
"How any senator — much less one who has served as long as Sen. Collins has — ever agreed to such a deal is beyond me," said Jim Manley, a Democratic consultant and former high-ranking Senate aide. "The promises she extracted were never, ever going to be binding on rank-and-file House Republicans, and now she has nothing to show for all of this. She got rolled big time."
Whether that's the case remains to be seen. A must-pass year-end spending bill presents the only realistic vehicle to carry the health bills, but it's uncertain whether the final maneuvers on that legislation will play out as Collins would wish. Democratic votes will be needed in the Senate, but Democrats have not committed to supporting her priorities, nor have House Republicans, many of whom oppose the health bills and Collins' attempts to push them into law over their objections.
"You've got individual senators that think, in my view arrogantly, that they are entitled to disproportionate representation of the country," complained Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. "I mean, the American people ought to be ticked off."
In the end, Collins may have little recourse if the bills she's touting don't become law, other than making known her displeasure with the Trump administration and her own party's leadership in Congress.
Yet given the pivotal position she occupies, that may just be enough to push GOP leaders from the president on down to do everything they can to keep her happy.
Senate Republican seem to know that.
"It's good," said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), "to have Susan in the tent."
Magic Leap reveals its new augmented-reality smart glasses .
The secretive startup has officially launched its hardware, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition. It includes a set of Lightwear smart glasses, a belt-worn Lightpack battery pack and a controller, simply called Control. The company said it's due to ship in 2018, but gave no pricing information. The Creator Edition looks geared toward developers. With its upcoming Creator Portal, the company has announced, "we're getting ready to open access to our SDK (software development kit) along with all of the tools, documentation, learning resources and support you'll need to begin your journey.
FNN: Veteran homelessness conference, White House Christmas decorations unveiled
Brought to you by Desert Diamond: http://ddcaz.com.
Orlando Shooting: Investigation and Political Fallout
In the days after the shooting at an Orlando nightclub left 49 people dead and dozens wounded, the debate in Washington has turned to guns and terrorism. NBC's Pete Williams reports on the...