A couple days ago, centrists were disappointed to hear that center-right Republican Susan Collins ended up voting for the atrocious tax bill Republicans have been pushing for weeks. The reason she gave for voting that way has been shown to be an empty promise, so will she change her vote?
Disappointing but Not Surprising on Taxation & Individual Mandate
For weeks before the vote in question, Susan Collins had been publicly on the fence. One can never really know what a politician is secretly thinking, but – perhaps feeling pressure from her party after voting against them so much recently – it seemed as though she was looking for reasons to vote for this bill.
Disappointing as her vote was, especially given conflicting stances she’s taken in the past about the national debt and deficit spending, this is going to happen sometimes with moderates who lean one way or the other (and illustrates why we need more than a few centrists for the fulcrum strategy to work consistently).
Collins aligns more with the right than the center on some taxation issues, and has always been against the individual mandate – the latter of which is a common view among centrists (and the country at large). I’ve been against the individual mandate from the beginning as well (as was President Obama from at least 2007 through 2009, when he flip-flopped), but the difference is I wouldn’t vote for a repeal without replacing it with something better, like the public option to go along with the two provisions described below, much less if it were couched in the terrible bill we’re talking about here.
Bad Trade – a Real Vote for an Empty Promise
Collins’ publicly stated kicker for stepping down from the fence and voting for the bill was because of a promise made by President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that she would get two provisions written into legislation in the near-term future. Those provisions include two good ideas, both which have bipartisan support:
- Collins-Nelson – reinsurance program that would compensate insurers for the most expensive customers, which would result in lower rates, though not close to enough to make up for the increase from the mandate being repealed – even if it were doubled in size as Collins is now asking for, and it ends after two years.
- Alexander-Murray – a slate of healthcare changes that includes federal funding for ACA marketing that Trump slashed and the extension of subsidies that help reduce deductibles, co-pays and out of pocket expenses for lower income people purchasing insurance through the ACA marketplace.
There’s a pretty obvious problem with this trade, that I tweeted about two days ago, right after I heard about it:
I vehemently disagree, but I understand that center-right politicians are going to break right sometimes… what makes no sense, though, is trading a vote on a bad bill right now, for the inclusion of amendments that can’t be guaranteed to pass in a future bill. https://t.co/JjSm3iE4Du
— Uniters.org Centrist (@UnitersCentrist) December 5, 2017
Two short days later and we already have confirmation of just how empty of a promise it was, and this gives Senator Collins another chance to make the right call.
Paul Ryan and RSC Giving Collins an Out
Here’s where Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan stands on the issue, according to an article at The Hill:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a commitment to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that he would support passage of two bipartisan ObamaCare bills before the end of the year, a promise that helped win her vote for tax reform.
However, Ryan’s office told a meeting of staff from the four top congressional leadership offices on Monday that he has not made that same commitment, raising further questions about whether the ObamaCare bills, already opposed by House conservatives, can pass the House.
The conservative House Republican Study Committee nailed the proverbial coffin shut on McConnell’s promises, from an article at The Daily Beast:
On Monday, those conservatives railed against McConnell for making promises on legislation that they have long opposed.
“We still have the same issues. Nothing has changed in the last two months just because we’re fulfilling our promise on delivering on tax reform,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Daily Beast. “I find it problematic to be promising something that the House has shunned from very early on.”
Lawmakers made it clear that they felt no reason to support the proposed deals, and blamed Senate leaders for trying to wheel and deal their way to a successful result on reforming the tax code and slashing rates, an issue they believe all Republicans should have been united around from the start.
Even if Trump and McConnell did their level best to rally support for the two promised provisions, they can’t ensure passage in the Senate. Now with Ryan and House conservatives standing in the way, the real vote she traded for an iffy promise now seems more like it’s all downside.
After this bill comes out of conference, she’ll have another chance to vote. Lets hope she doesn’t take another bad deal, and in the process help pass a far worse deal for American taxpayers into law.