House GOPers Say Susan Collins’ Health Care Demands Are Dead On Arrival

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives for a caucus meeting as the Republican majority in Congress prepares to vote on the biggest reshaping of the U.S. tax code in three decades, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Just a few hours before the Senate prepares to vote on a massive overhaul of the American tax system, a host of House Republicans told reporters that the promises made to secure the vote of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have no chance of passing the lower chamber and becoming law.

Collins announced Monday that she would vote for the tax bill based on promises from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to support two health care bills aimed at mitigating the expected damage from the tax bill’s provision killing Obamacare’s individual mandate.

One bill would to restore government subsidies to insurance companies known as CSRs that the Trump administration cut off earlier this year, and the other would set up a temporary federal reinsurance program. Both policies would lower insurance premiums, which are predicted to rise sharply as result of eliminating the individual mandate, but would do nothing to prevent an expected 13 million more people from becoming uninsured over the next decade.

Still, many Republicans, including Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), said there is widespread opposition in the House to these policies, which they see as propping up Obamacare.

“Our guys do not want to be in the position of upholding a system that we all oppose and that we tried to repeal and did repeal in this chamber. That’s a real problem,” Cole said, before taking aim at Collins. “We’re not going to let ourselves be blackmailed by one senator for one vote in the United States Senate. I don’t think so.”

McConnell promised Monday that Collins’ health care bills will be attached to the continuing resolution that must pass before midnight on Friday to avoid a government shutdown, along with a host of other bills including natural disaster aid for hurricane ravaged states and the reauthorization of a lapsed health insurance program that covers millions of children.

But House Republicans say it is likely they will vote to strip out the health care bill and kick the bill back to the Senate, setting up a bicameral showdown.

“As a concept, paying insurance companies to lower their prices is an issue with a lot of us. I mean, let the market work,” complained Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) on Tuesday, though he did acknowledge that paying billions in CSRs actually saves the government money.

Guthrie and several Republicans added that at a bare minimum, language would have to be inserted into the CSR funding bill to prevent any federal subsidy money from going to any private insurance plan that cover abortions, meaning that marketplace plans in New York and California, where state laws require all plans to cover abortions, would be ineligible for these subsidies.

“All of us would want to make sure the Hyde Amendment is in there in order for this to move forward,” Guthrie said. “The federal government should not be funding abortion services.”

The insertion of such language is likely to kill the measure’s chances in the Senate, where Democratic votes are needed to pass the continuing resolution. Asked by TPM if Democrats would oppose the anti-abortion language, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) answered, “Absolutely.”

Still, many Republicans are skeptical that the Obamacare stabilization policy could pass the House with or without the anti-abortion provision.

“I hate it,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told TPM, adding that health insurance industry lobbyists have been in his office for the past several weeks asking him to support restoring the CSR payments. “I said, ‘There’s the door. Don’t let it hit you on the butt on the way out.'”

As she strode through the basement of the Senate on her way to a vote on another matter Tuesday afternoon, reporters swarmed around a stony-faced Susan Collins to ask if she still felt comfortable voting for the tax bill if her health care policies’ prospects in the House are in danger.

“We’re a long ways to the end of this,” she said. “I’m not going to comment on the stories you all are trying to write.”