WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Susan Collins criticized elements of the Republican tax reform bill Wednesday, including provisions that would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and also sunset tax cuts for middle-class families while making corporate tax cuts permanent.
The additions to the tax reform bill were made late Tuesday night, with President Trump pushing for the provision to repeal the ACA individual mandate. Repealing the mandate would save more than $338 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Collins didn’t say she would vote “no” on tax reform, but she noted that the bill is a constantly changing “moving target.” She said she has strong reservations about parts of the legislation, which Republican leaders have said they want to fast-track and vote on by the end of the year.
A moderate and a key vote in a closely divided Senate, Collins said adding the individual mandate repeal muddies efforts to reform the tax code. The individual mandate is a provision in the ACA that requires people to purchase insurance or pay a tax penalty.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea. It complicates the goal of getting tax reform done. It makes no sense to take a very complex issue like health care and to repeal one piece of a complicated law and put it into a very complex tax reform bill,” Collins told the Portland Press Herald in a hallway interview at the U.S. Capitol building. Beforehand, Collins received a “Champion of Children’s Health Award” by New Directions for Maine Families, a nonprofit, and was thanked several times for her vote to preserve the ACA.
Collins joined Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to defeat the ACA repeal in July by one vote in a dramatic late-night session. Collins also was instrumental in deep-sixing a September effort to repeal the ACA by announcing her opposition.
The Republican tax reform bill would cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over 10 years, including hefty reductions for wealthy Americans.
Collins said that if the ACA’s individual mandate were to be repealed, it should be done in concert with other health care reforms that would ensure young, healthy people are in the insurance pool to keep health care costs down. A CBO report on the Senate bill said repealing the individual mandate would cause premiums to rise by 10 percent and result in 13 million fewer Americans having insurance in 10 years.
“It’s not that I’m a proponent of the individual mandate, but I don’t think you can take one piece out of the ACA and not replace it with some kind of incentive to get young and healthy people to enroll,” Collins said.
The Collins-Cassidy bill – a moderate attempt to replace the ACA that was not taken up by Congress – had auto-enrollments as one of its main provisions.
Collins said she would prefer to create a bipartisan tax reform bill, and that the individual mandate repeal only serves to “alienate” Democrats. She said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” that including the mandate repeal “guarantees we will not have a bipartisan bill.”
Collins noted that then-President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform bill was supported by Republicans and Democrats.
Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has opposed all attempts to repeal the ACA, and he lambasted the Republican tax reform bill in an interview with the Press Herald in his Senate office Wednesday.
King said the secretive and fast-paced process on tax reform is pushing away Democrats who are “ready to do tax reform.”
“A Maine town wouldn’t approve a new leash law in this way,” King said of the hurried and closed-door process.
He said he has many problems with the tax reform bill, and that the individual mandate repeal is a “terrible idea.”
“It would accelerate the unraveling of the individual market, and encourage younger and healthier people to do without insurance,” King said.
Meanwhile, Collins said it was a “huge surprise” to her that tax cuts that would benefit middle-class families – such as expanding the child tax credit – would expire under the reform plan while corporate tax cuts would be permanent. The sunset provisions were inserted into the Senate bill on Tuesday.
“I do not like that,” Collins said. “I don’t understand why we would make the benefits for corporations permanent and yet sunset after nine years the benefits for working families. That’s a major concern of mine.”
Collins said the “choice really bothers me. I understand that businesses are looking for certainty, but so are families.”
She said she wants to make the tax code more friendly for small businesses, which create most of the jobs in Maine and shoulder much of the tax burden.
Collins also is opposed to a provision in the House bill that would eliminate the tax deduction for medical expenses. The AARP strongly opposes eliminating the deduction, which is used for people in long-term care and saves families with large unreimbursed medical costs an average of about $2,000 in Maine, the AARP said. Collins said many elderly or disabled people rely on the medical expense deduction.
“I was lobbying hard for the Senate to preserve that deduction and not follow the lead of the House,” Collins said.
She’s also worried about the Senate bill potentially triggering automatic Medicare cuts, which the CBO estimates could total $25 billion in 2018. Collins said she heard that there could be fixes in the Senate bill that would prevent the Medicare cutbacks from taking place.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: