July 18, 2018
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Collins announces support for GOP tax bill

J. Scott Applewhite | AP
J. Scott Applewhite | AP
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced Monday that she plans to support the GOP tax bill.
By Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Updated:

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Monday that she will vote for the Republican tax bill package when it returns to the Senate later this week.

The bill contains three amendments that she sought, but repeals the Affordable Care Act mandate that individuals have health insurance or pay a penalty and it’s uncertain whether House Republicans will go along with offsetting changes supported by Collins.

The nearly 1,100-page bill from a House and Senate conference committee was released on Friday. Collins was one of the final Republican holdouts on the bill, which would reduce individual tax rates and lower the corporate tax from 35 percent to 21 percent.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that an earlier Senate tax plan would increase the federal deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years. A preliminary analysis on Monday from the conservative Tax Foundation pegged the plan with a lower price tag, but it still cast doubt on Republican claims that the tax cuts would pay for themselves.

However, Collins, a moderate Republican, embraced that argument in a floor speech on Monday.

“Tax relief and reform will lift our economy, leading to higher wages for workers and more revenue for government,” she said.

The bill is a key Republican priority and is shaping up to be their major legislative achievement in the first year of President Donald Trump’s first term. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, also announced Monday that he would vote for the plan.

Evenness of those tax cuts is the major sticking point between Republicans and Democrats: A JCT analysis of the earlier Senate plan noted that families making less than $50,000 would pay more by 2021 while families above $1 million would pay less and the liberal Tax Policy Center said on Monday that the package’s benefits skew toward the wealthy.

Religious leaders demonstrated at Collins’ Lewiston office on Monday. Protesters also showed up at her Bangor office, saying they planned to stay even if they faced arrest. Republicans were pressuring U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, and opposes the bill, over the weekend.

As Collins spoke on the Senate floor, several protesters picketed outside her Bangor office, including Gail Leiser, 54, of Bar Harbor, who was dressed as “Darth Traitor.”

“Sen. Collins was elected as a moderate [but] she’s going to vote yes on a radical bill that’s going to hurt Mainers and people across the country,” Leiser said. “She is a traitor to the Maine people.”

Versions of three amendments pushed by Collins are in the package that would allow taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, reducing a medical expense deduction threshold and allowing public and nonprofit employees to keep making catch-up contributions to retirement accounts.

However, Republicans may not oblige Collins on another key priority: Offsetting the eventual tax bill’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that individuals buy health insurance or pay a penalty with the passage of two other bills that could offset hikes in premiums caused by such a move, which the Congressional Budget has estimated at 10 percent.

The two proposals would restart cost-sharing subsidies that help people with lower incomes buy health insurance stopped by the Trump administration — and provide $10 billion over two years to help states cover high-cost patients.

President Donald Trump has reportedly agreed to help Collins pass those bills if the tax bill passes and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has said he would support passage of the two Collins-backed bills by year’s end.

But House Republicans have balked and debate on the spending bill that would contain them may stretch in January, which has led Collins’ critics to conclude that she’s been duped.

She restated on the Senate floor on Monday that while she opposes the individual mandate, its repeal shouldn’t have been included in the tax bill. However, she said repealing it without the offsetting bills would “almost certainly” lead to premium increases.

BDN writer Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.

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