King and Collins: Two Maine senators, two opposing views on GOP tax bill

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Taxes were a hot topic on the Sunday talk shows, and Maine’s senators appeared separately to promote opposing stances on the upper chamber’s first swing at tax legislation.

Independent Angus King expressed his displeasure on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” not only with the controversial tax bill’s content but also the rushed procedure that forced an early morning vote on December 2.

Republican Susan Collins appeared on NBC’s signature political program, “Meet the Press,” to defend her vote for the bill. Many in Maine, and nationally, had hoped Collins would once again be a swing vote against signature GOP legislation, as she was on a health care overhaul in September.

But even though the tax bill has a component that could negatively impact health coverage, on this occasion Collins stood with her Republican colleagues in passing the bill 51-49 at 3 am Saturday. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was the lone GOP dissenter.

Collins said she secured promises from her party’s leadership that would reduce the potential damage of removing the individual mandate from the Affordable Healthcare Act through a provision in the tax bill. Previously, Collins had said the tax bill could increase health insurance premiums and erase any tax cut benefits for the middle class.

“I got a commitment that we’re going to pass two bills, including the Alexander-Murray bill, and one that I’ve authored that will help offset the individual mandate repeal by lowering premiums,” she claimed Sunday. “I also got an ironclad commitment that we’re not going to see cuts in the Medicaid/Medicare program as a result of this bill.”

Her Collins-Nelson bill would lower insurance premiums by allowing use of high-risk pools while guaranteeing protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.

Collins also negotiated inclusion of a property tax deduction of up to $10,000 and an assurance of at least a vote on bipartisan proposals to shore up the individual health insurance market.

“I believe that the amendments that I added on medical expense deductions, on property tax deductions, on helping retirement security for public employees, improved the bill,” Collins told host Chuck Todd.

The Senate’s tax proposal must be reconciled with a House version of tax reform before it can reach the Oval Office. King on Sunday gave even odds on the Senate version reaching a reconciliation conference between the two Congressional chambers.

“I give it 50/50 there will be no conference,” King said. “I think there’s a chance. Because I don’t think that either side, either the House or Senate, wants to bring this back to the floor.”

King proffered what was likely the soundbite of the day – although Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley owned the weekend’s winning blurb – when he predicted that upon a close reading of the legislation, “we’re going to find some really stinky stuff in here that we didn’t know.”

The former governor of Maine explained that senators received the bill at 6 pm Friday, and were asked to read through nearly 480 pages within hours.

“I marked in the margin on page 409, ‘domestic oil and gas extraction income.’ What’s that all about? There’s a later provision about ‘income on oil and gas from foreign countries.’ What’s that all about? The point is nobody knew what was going on here,” King told CBS host John Dickerson, adding that a vote could have been delayed to give lawmakers more time to digest the proposal. “[Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer moved to recess Friday night about nine until Monday. Give people a chance to go through this and dig through it. Party line vote, denied, we end up voting at 3 a.m.”

King also forecast a heavy Republican publicity campaign to make the tax overhaul seem palpable to millions of Americans who will see negligible or negative results from the measure, noting “anything good that happens in America in the next year, including good weather at the Super Bowl, is going to be attributed to this bill.”

The Senate version of the tax bill benefits corporations with a 15 percent rate reduction, gives the ultra-wealthy gifts like repeal of the estate tax on inheritances of $5.4 million or more, eliminates popular itemized deductions that benefit middle-of-the-road taxpayers, and will add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.