It’s becoming clear that Republican leaders in Congress won’t meet the conditions that Senator Susan Collins of Maine set out in the tax legislation. So now what?
The final version of the GOP’s tax bill, whose framework was unveiled in principle on Wednesday, ignores several of the senator’s stated principles.
Yet Collins, who defended her controversial vote to advance the tax bill on grounds she had “ironclad” assurances that her concerns would be addressed, is waffling. “I’m going to wait and look at the entire conference report and see what all the provisions are,” she said on Wednesday, as details emerged.
That sounds alarmingly like the first contortions of an epic flip-flop.
For Collins, the upcoming vote is no longer just about technical policy details. The way she handles the next week is shaping up as a test of her political independence, and to a certain extent even her credibility.
If she really meant what she has been telling the public, Collins should vote against the conference report.
Tax fairness. “I do not believe that the top rate should be lowered for individuals who are making more than $1 million a year,” Collins said in October.
The conference report drops income taxes on those top earners to 37 percent, a big windfall for the rich.
Health spending. Collins claimed that the legislation would not cause health spending cuts.
“I also got an ironclad commitment that we’re not going to see cuts in the Medicaid/Medicare program as a result of this bill,” she said.
But since the passage of the Senate bill, Collins’s fellow Republicans have explicitly rejected that deal. House Speaker Paul Ryan, said he wants to curtail spending on the programs.
Collins may find some wiggle room in the words “as a result.” The bill may not literally spell out Medicaid/Medicare cuts, but it takes a willful blindness not to see how it sets the stage for them by reducing tax revenues.
Insurance. The GOP plan would eliminate the individual mandate. Collins has called for two bills that would soften the resulting spike in insurance premiums.
“I am pushing to make sure they are passed and signed into law prior to the conference report coming back on the tax bill so that I would know for certain we’re going to be able to mitigate the impact of the repeal of the individual mandate,” Collins said.
The conference report is coming back, and neither bill has been signed into law.
Now, it’s true that politicians have to compromise. But they shouldn’t walk away from core priorities like the ones that Collins outlined during the tax debate.
The truth is that Collins made a huge blunder by voting for the Senate bill. She’s not the only one to miscalculate: Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona cast his vote for the bill on assurances that Congress would protect undocumented children. There has been no action there, either.
Those senators are left with two choices now: to insist on the deal they had, or back down. And that would expose them as bad negotiators, unprincipled, or both.
One thing is sure: To cast a vote for this bill would reinforce every cynical belief Americans have about politicians, and leave a lasting blot on Collins’s record.