As Tax Bill Vote Approaches, Susan Collins Says ‘Not So Fast’

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At a breakfast with reporters Thursday morning, less than 24 hours before the Senate votes to overhaul the American tax code and kill the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said her Republican colleagues have not yet secured her vote.

With the bill still in flux, and furious last-minute negotiations going on behind closed doors, Collins laid out several problems she has with the legislation: the “mistake” of including repeal of the individual mandate, concerns about a “trigger” proposal pushed by the Senate’s deficit hawks, too-deep cuts to the corporate tax rate, and the elimination of most state and local tax (SALT) deductions.

“There are a lot of concerns I want to fix,” she said. “I am not committed to vote for this bill. Who knows what’s going to happen on the Senate floor during the vote-a-rama.”

Here are Collins’ key concerns and demands, several of which may not be addressed in the final package, putting her vote in jeopardy.

Pulling the trigger

As of Thursday morning, Collins and other lawmakers still did not know the details of a proposal on a deficit trigger—a provision a handful of Republicans demanded earlier this week that would undo some of the deepest tax cuts in the bill if they fail to stimulate economic growth.

“It’s gone through several iterations and it’s still under negotiation,” Collins said.

One of those iterations involved $350 billion in tax hikes beginning in 2022, either by ending certain corporate deductions or by raising the corporate tax rate one percent. An alternative proposal would involve deep federal spending cuts instead of tax hikes

Collins said she has serious problems with both ideas.

“You don’t want to raise taxes if the economy is going into a recession,” she said. “That would be the worst thing to do. And I have problems with cutting entitlement programs in an across-the-board kind of way if you’re going into a recession. That’s when programs like Medicaid and unemployment compensation have greater demands on it.”

Health care woes

Though Collins has over the last few days indicated she could swallow the repeal of the individual mandate if two separate health care bills are passed before the end of the year to attempt to contain the damage, she said Thursday that the mandate repeal was “unwisely” included in the tax bill and called it “a big mistake.”

“When you take out that one provision from the ACA, it causes premiums to go up as healthier, younger people leave the marketplace,” she said. “So I’m concerned about premiums, even though I don’t support the individual mandate and I think an auto-enroll system with an opportunity to opt out would be a far better means of getting people in the system.”

Collins insisted to reporters Thursday that she’s secured promises from President Trump and GOP leaders to pass two bills—one to restore government subsidies to insurance companies that Trump defunded earlier this year and the other to set up a federal reinsurance program.

“The combination of those two bills would more than offset the premium increase caused for those who have to buy on the individual market,” she insisted, though several health care experts have said otherwise. 

And while Collins had originally demanded that these mitigating bills be passed before the tax bill in order to secure her vote, she now says she’ll accept their passage in the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government, which must pass in the next couple weeks to avoid a government shutdown.

“So I’m going to know by the time the tax bill comes back from conference if those provisions made it,” she said. “That’s hugely important.”

Asked by TPM what gives her confidence that the same President and Republican lawmakers who recently railed against CSRs as a “bailout” and “corporate welfare” for insurance companies will vote to restore them, Collins quipped: “Part of it is a matter of needing votes.”

SALT in the wound

Collins also indicated that Republican leadership could lose her vote if they fail to include her amendment allowing taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes.

“It would be very problematic for me if the SALT deduction is not in the bill,” she said. “It’s extremely important to me. It would be very difficult for me to support the bill if I do not prevail.”

Though Collins said she would prefer keeping all of the state and local tax (SALT) deductions, she is trying to be a “realist” and compromise by only demanding the property tax portion.

She said she would prefer to pay for this provision by not cutting the income tax rate of families making more than $1 million a year, and also noted that the corporate tax cut does not need to be quite as deep as the costly one included in the GOP tax plan.

“I don’t think we need to go to 20 percent on the corporate side,” she said. “I have talked with many CEOs of large corporations that have plants in Maine. I pressed them on this issue repeatedly. I said, ‘Look, if the corporate tax rate goes from 35 percent to 22 percent, do you really mean to tell me that that’s going to influence your investment decisions?’ And with one exception, they all said it would not. They said they would be delighted with 22 percent rate.”

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