Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine says two health care bills she wanted in exchange for her vote for a massive GOP tax overhaul bill that passed Wednesday won’t be considered until next year.
Her announcement raises questions about whether Collins has the leverage — and the votes — to get those bills through Congress.
Collins voted for the GOP tax plan, despite its repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, because GOP leadership promised her a vote on her reinsurance bill and a vote on legislation to restore some payments to insurers.
But Collins has now moved the timetable for Congress to consider the health bills three times.
In November, Collins told reporters in Washington, D.C., that the health care bills would likely be considered before final passage of the tax overhaul, thus strengthening her negotiating position.
“I’m going to know whether or not those provisions made it. And that matters hugely to me,” she said.
But Collins’ ability to secure those two proposals has been met with widespread skepticism, locally and nationally.
Her agreements over the health care proposals were secured with the White House and Senate leader Mitch McConnell, but not with the GOP-controlled House. And some Republican House members signaled early on that they had no interest in passing bills that could shore up the Affordable Care Act.
Nevertheless, Collins told Maine Public Radio last week that she was confident the health care bills would be considered before the end of the year.
“I believe that the agreements that I have were made in good faith and will be kept,” she told Maine Public Radio last week. “And obviously, if I’m proven wrong there will be consequences.”
But Collins announced Wednesday that the proposals won’t be considered until next year. That’s because she withdrew a request that the bills get included in a spending bill that’s supposed to pass by the end of the year to avoid a government shutdown.
She says Democratic leaders balked at supporting it if her health care proposals were included, and she says she needs Democrats to pass the health bills, too.
“My two bills need 60 votes to pass in the Senate. The tax bill only needed 50 votes,” Collins says.
The delay has whipped up withering criticism of Collins’ decision to support the tax overhaul. On Wednesday, the Maine Democratic Party described her evolving timetable as a series of flip-flops. Another ACA advocacy group blasted her and Republicans for backing a “sneaky repeal” of the health care law.
Media commentators have questioned whether she was duped by GOP leaders. That prompted Collins to complain to D.C. reporters Tuesday that the press coverage of the tax overhaul has been sexist and ignored other tax-related amendments she secured in the bill.
In a telephone interview, Collins said she’s not happy the proposals won’t be considered before the end of the year.
“The deadline has slipped, which I am disappointed about, but the policy commitments are still there,” she said.
Whether the votes are there is another question.
Collins says she had a fruitful discussion with House Speaker Paul Ryan and that the GOP leader is committed to similar versions of the proposals that she’s backing, potentially with more funding.
Those proposals could be considered in an omnibus spending bill early next year.