December 18, 2017
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Collins shares concerns about GOP tax bill, proposes changes

By Staff and wire reports, Special to the BDN
Updated:
J. Scott Applewhite | AP | BDN
J. Scott Applewhite | AP | BDN
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is questioned by reporters as lawmakers arrive for a vote, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017.

As Senate Republicans hurtled Thursday toward a vote on their tax bill, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she wasn’t committed to backing it, citing worries over health care and the loss of state and local tax deductions.

The Maine Republican told reporters Thursday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast it would be “very difficult for me to support the bill if I do not prevail on those two issues.”

But if Collins gets her way, those items could make the package unpalatable for conservative House Republicans.

Collins spoke on the Senate floor later Thursday to outline four amendments that she teased to reporters on Wednesday. That slate includes a proposed amendment to the tax bill that would retain the deduction for property taxes up to $10,000, as the House’s proposal does.

“I believe that all four of these amendments would strengthen this legislation in critical ways and make it more beneficial for middle-income Americans,” she said.

The Senate bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act fine on people who do not purchase health insurance, which the Congressional Budget Office has said would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027 and cause premiums to spike by 10 percent in most years.

Earlier this month, Collins’ concerns about the package revolved around the mandate. She has asked lawmakers to include in a separate bill two provisions — one that would continue Affordable Care Act subsidy payments for low-income people for two years and another reinsurance bill providing $2.25 billion annually to help insurers cover expensive patients.

President Donald Trump has reportedly agreed to that, but all indications are that those two bills may not offset the impact of the mandate. The CBO says that the subsidy bill won’t substantially change the number of people with coverage. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the reinsurance bill would need twice the money to offset premium hikes.

Collins brushed aside concerns about the CBO finding on Wednesday, noting that it assumed that the cost-saving reductions payments that aren’t being made, would be made and that the finding “truly makes no sense whatsoever.”

But any Senate proposal would have to be reconciled in the House of Representatives, where conservatives took a dim view of Collins’ requests on Thursday. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill that it may not pass and said continuing the subsidies would “bail out insurance companies.”

Widely, the CBO has said the tax bill would increase the federal deficit by $1.4 trillion over 10 years. While it would cut taxes overall, benefits skew toward high-income earners and most families making less than $40,000 annually would pay higher taxes after 2021.

Republicans have argued that economic growth would offset the deficit, but the Joint Committee on Taxation said Thursday that it would amount to a $1 trillion bump in the deficit over a decade, even after factoring in economic growth.

Collins’ proposed slate of amendments to the tax bill also includes a refundable tax credit for adult dependent care that would be paid for by closing a loophole on carried interest, a lower threshold for a tax deduction for medical expenses and allowing public and nonprofit employees to keep making catch-up contributions to retirement accounts.

The senator told reporters that she believed the corporate tax rate does not need to be cut as low as 20 percent, as Trump has favored. She said 21 percent or 22 percent would be “fine with me.”

She said she expected a Senate floor vote during the tax bill debate on making individual tax cuts permanent, or to make corporate tax cuts expire at the same time as individual cuts.

BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Reuters contributed to this report.

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