Susan Collins wasn’t duped on tax bill

After being applauded last summer for voting against repealing the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Susan Collins supported the Republican tax cut bill despite Congress not adopting health policy provisions she said were necessary to win her vote.

In November 2017, Collins said her support for the tax bill depended on passage of two provisions, on health reinsurance and cost-sharing. She told a reporter, “I’m going to know whether or not those provisions made it. And that matters hugely to me.” But while Collins knew they didn’t make it into the tax cut bill, in early December she voted “yes” anyway.

Right after the tax bill passed, Collins predicted that commitments to her would be kept and warned that if her health fix didn’t pass by the end of the year, “obviously, if I’m proven wrong there will be consequences.” But then the end of the year came and went without the vote even being taken.

Sen. Susan Collins. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Next the purported promise turned into a plan to include Collins’ policy in the omnibus budget bill in March. However, because other Republicans insisted on including poison bill amendments mandating that policies sold on health exchanges exclude abortion coverage, no provision passed.

As Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times noted, “This is a measure Republicans and other anti-abortion politicians have been trying to squeeze into law since the ACA was debated in 2010; they’ve failed every time.” Hiltzik observed, “This history makes clear that Republicans shouldn’t have been surprised that their abortion rider would be a deal-breaker for the ACA rescue bill.”

Through this whole set of events, some claimed Collins was “duped,” fooled by other politicians.

However, using that language about Maine’s senior senator is highly problematic. Claiming Collins was duped infantilizes her or at least makes it seem like she doesn’t know how to do her job. That’s not credible.

Collins is smart, hard-working and savvy. While she’s been under fire more recently than before, she’s built a reputation for delving into details and crafting coalitions.

I’m no mind reader but take Collins at her word that she thought Republican leaders’ promise to her would be kept. But, as an experienced legislator, she would have to had known that that wasn’t certain.

Why? Because, as the saying in diplomatic circles goes, “Nothing is completed until everything is completed.”

The health fix Collins wanted wasn’t completed until it was all done. And Collins’ vote on taxes lost currency once the bill passed, making her health plan vulnerable to meddling.

A number of critics said as much when Collins voted for legislation that was so rushed and filled with last minute additions it couldn’t have been fully read before the vote. Her self-reported deal to pass health provisions later couldn’t bind those who didn’t make it, particularly if specifics changed due to pressure from the hard right.

Rather than using language suggesting Collins lacks sophistication or was tricked, it’s worth thinking about tax politics and policy.

Republicans have long claimed that tax cuts won’t contribute to deficits and debt. For example, Collins predicted to journalist Chuck Todd in December, “Economic growth produces more revenue and that will help to offset this tax cut and actually lower the debt.”

But evidence doesn’t back these bromides. In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback said he’d prove that tax cuts would lead the state’s economy to soar. Instead growth was relatively slow, less money came into the state’s treasury, its bond rating was downgraded, and infrastructure, health care and education were cut.

Nationally, after George W. Bush passed tax cuts that most benefited wealthy Americans, jobs increased more slowly than after Bill Clinton and Barack Obama raised taxes for people with high incomes.

Contrary to conservatives’ contentions, Franklin Roosevelt argued that people are more free and have greater opportunity when government creates economic security, protects collective bargaining and provides resources for health and education. His 1944 G.I. Bill educated and trained millions and built the middle class.

While certain spending and targeted tax cuts can stimulate a flagging economy, history shows people’s ability to achieve isn’t associated with slashing taxes on the rich. Students go to school four days a week in Oklahoma because tax cuts have led to sharp decreases in education funding. Small businesses and entrepreneurs did worse under Bush than Clinton and Obama.

Still, faith in failed fiscal policies abides and savvy politicians may find themselves trapped by ideology and ideologues. In a different context, Abraham Lincoln provided apt advice, exhorting Americans, “We must disenthrall ourselves.” When it comes to taxes, today’s Republicans, including Collins, should follow Lincoln’s counsel.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.