Moderate Collins back in prominent role
in Senate tax drama
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[November 16, 2017]
By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senator Susan
Collins is back in the spotlight as a crucial swing vote in the U.S.
Senate as she raises questions about how combining a Republican tax-cut
plan with a partial repeal of Obamacare will affect middle-class
A day after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell decided to link the
two issues in a risky strategy, Collins, a moderate Republican from
Maine, was citing data that she called worrisome, casting new doubts
over the tax plan's outlook.
She told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday that her staff's research
showed pairing tax cuts with an effective repeal of the individual
mandate of Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA),
could be a mistake.
"I have data that demonstrates for certain middle-income individuals and
couples, who do not qualify for subsidies under the ACA ... that the
premium increase will outweigh the tax cut that they get," she said. "I
suspected this, based on what I know about insurance markets, but now I
have the actual data."
Collins was one of a handful of Republicans who voted in July to block a
broader Republican attempt to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic
President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.
The failure of the final repeal effort, in which Collins was joined in
opposition by fellow Republicans John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, was a
stinging defeat for President Donald Trump and Republican congressional
leaders eager to fulfill their campaign promise to scrap Obamacare.
Collins, 64, a senator since 1997, decided last month against running
for governor of Maine in favor of staying in the Senate, where her
status as a centrist Republican willing to work with Democrats has made
her one of the most influential members of Congress.
That has become especially obvious in recent months. After her role in
halting Obamacare repeal efforts during the summer, she said in
September she would oppose another Republican healthcare overhaul, known
as Cassidy-Graham, leaving it short of the votes needed to pass. She
cited concerns about its proposed cuts to the Medicaid healthcare
program for the poor.
COMPLICATING THE ISSUE
Collins, along with McCain, Murkowski and Senator Ron Johnson, has
emerged in the past 24 hours as pivotal to winning Senate approval of
the tax-cut plan, which is backed by the president and is critical to
the party's 2018 electoral prospects as they seek their first major
legislative win since Trump took office in January.
In an unexpected move, McConnell on Tuesday inserted a proposed
individual mandate repeal in the Senate tax plan.
[to top of second column]
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks with reporters ahead of the party
luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2017.
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo
The mandate, long opposed by Republicans, requires Americans to have
health insurance or pay a federal fine. The rule is meant to ensure
enough young, healthy people are in Obamacare to offset the costs of
covering sicker and older people.
Repealing the mandate, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office
said last week, would increase the number of Americans without
health insurance by 13 million by 2027 and raise average Obamacare
marketplace insurance policy premiums by about 10 percent annually
over the next decade.
That premium increase could cancel out any tax-cut gains some
middle-class Americans stand to make under the Senate tax plan,
according to the research cited by Collins, who oversaw Maine's
Bureau of Insurance before she came to the Senate.
Collins has not taken a stand on the tax plan. "I am going to wait
and evaluate what is in the bill," she said. "I do believe our taxes
need to be overhauled. ... I just donít know why we had to
complicate it by bringing up the ACA."
Johnson, in a statement on Wednesday, said: "Neither the House nor
Senate bill provide fair treatment, so I do not support either in
their current version." The Wisconsin lawmaker added he would work
with his Republican colleagues to produce better legislation.
Murkowski, when asked on Wednesday if she backed the tax-cut plan
with a mandate repeal, said she was focused on opening Alaska's
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling, a key goal
for the Alaska lawmaker.
A committee that Murkowski chairs on Wednesday passed a bill to open
ANWR to drilling, which is now expected to be attached to the tax
(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Richard Cowan; Editing
by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)
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