Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins last week voted for a sweeping GOP overhaul of the federal tax code after receiving assurances that a pair of bills designed to stabilize the health insurance market will pass by the end of the year.
One bill temporarily restores ACA subsidies to insurers. The second would fund a two-year reinsurance program. But passage of the health care bills has long been in doubt, and the outlook isn’t improving.
That means Collins, considered a swing vote on the tax bill, could soon have to choose between bucking her party, which is desperate for a legislative victory, or inflaming already withering criticism from the left that has sparked protests and sit-ins at her congressional offices in Maine.
Some Republicans in the House announced last week that they oppose the two bills, which Collins had hoped would be included in a bill to continue funding the government. And this week, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said this week he wasn’t part of the deal that Collins struck with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.
Ryan hasn’t outright said no to the two bills, but even if he’s onboard, he’ll have to convince members of the Freedom Caucus, which last week announced its opposition. Collins also appears to be banking on what she says is a commitment from President Donald Trump that he’ll support the two bills — support that could win over reluctant GOP House members.
But the White House said Thursday that it isn’t committing to either of the bills just yet.
“The president supports the repeal of the individual mandate,” Hogan Gidley, deputy White House press secretary, told Bloomberg News. “We have also had productive discussions with Congress about how to temporarily provide stability in the marketplace. However, we’re not going to get ahead of any negotiations until a bill is presented to us.”
Meanwhile, progressive groups cite several analyses that say the two bills she’s seeking may not offset a spike in insurance premiums and loss of health care coverage for millions of Americans. The latter outcome has been projected if lawmakers pass the repeal of a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that most Americans have health insurance, which was included in the Senate version of the tax overhaul.
The so-called individual mandate is considered a key component of the ACA.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said repealing the mandate will leave 13 million fewer people covered by health insurance in 10 years. And premiums would jump by an additional 10 percent a year above already expected increases, the CBO said.
The Maine Center for Economic Policy, or MECEP, has said 50,000 fewer Mainers would have health insurance by 2027 if the mandate is repealed.
MECEP and others also criticized Collins’ office for circulating a study by Avelera saying that the two bills she’s backing will lower premiums and increase enrollment. But the study clearly states, “these stabilizing effects could be overshadowed by the consequences of repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.”
Collins has repeatedly says she’s confident the bills will pass, but it’s still unclear how she’ll vote on the tax bill if they don’t. Collins did tell WABI-TV in Bangor on Thursday that she could change her vote if two amendments she requested are not added into in the final version.
Senate Republicans can only lose three votes to pass the tax bill with a simple majority. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker is the only Republican who didn’t vote for the bill last week.
The proposal has been roundly criticized by Democrats for increasing the federal deficit, tilting tax relief toward the wealthy and providing questionable economic growth. The bill is also under fire for including a number provisions unrelated to the tax code, including allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, repealing a key provision of the Affordable Care Act and other sweeteners designed get Republicans onboard.
Republicans have attempted to counter the backlash by citing praise from businesses, who would benefit from a massive cut in the corporate tax rate from nearly 39 percent to 20 percent.
On Thursday, the shoemaker New Balance, located in Skowhegan, applauded Collins for supporting the bill. According to a press release, the lower corporate tax rate reduces the incentive for American companies to move operations overseas.
The company says a provision that allows businesses to expense and quickly depreciate new assets will spur job growth and higher wages.
“We applaud Senator Collins’ efforts to encourage greater growth at our U.S. factories by reducing the corporate tax burden, incentivizing capital investment and creating long-term certainty,” the company’s statement said. “The Senate bill will allow New Balance to be more competitive and manufacture more footwear in Maine that we can export across the globe.”
Businesses leaders and organizations have long backed Collins and she has long courted their support. That means business support for the tax bill, as well as Republicans’ elevating it as a legislative priority, could make it more difficult for her to vote against the final proposal, even if the health care bills she’s backing don’t pass.
GOP leaders in the Senate and House are expected to negotiate the final version of the tax bill and pass it before the end of the year. The same is true of the funding bill, which must be passed by Dec. 22 to avoid a government shutdown.
This story was originally published Dec. 8, 2017 at 4:50 p.m. ET.