Last summer, when Senator Susan Collins defied her party’s leadership by voting to save the “Affordable Care Act,” she became a heroine to the left. Obamacare apologists effusively praised the Maine Republican for courageously protecting the poor and infirm from the fell designs of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Lately, however, Collins has fallen out of favor with her newfound friends. The same publication that dubbed her a “heroine” last July now tells us that she has been “duped” by the wily GOP leadership into supporting tax breaks for billionaires and wrecking U.S. health care by repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate.
In other words, Senator Collins plans to vote for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act when it reaches the Senate floor, probably tomorrow. But Collins is no dupe. Her support for the legislation is clearly the right position for any member of Congress purporting to represent the best interests of Maine’s 1.3 million residents. That the bill repeals Obamacare’s individual mandate is not a betrayal of her constituents, as some have suggested. It will instead remove a significant tax burden that falls disproportionately on the shoulders of Maine voters. As the Bangor Daily News reports, Mainers pay a larger than average share of the individual mandate’s tax penalty:
Maine tax filers paid nearly $15.5 million in the ACA tax penalty in 2015, the most recent year for which the data are available. That’s about 5.25 percent of all tax filers in the state that year, a high share compared to other states. Nationwide, 4.5 percent of all tax filers paid the penalty in 2015.
And the people forced to pay this $15.5 million were, in most cases, those who could least afford it. As Senator John Thune pointed out last month in an interview with Fox News, “80 percent of the tax falls on those who make $50,000 a year or less.” And, though it clearly caused them considerable discomfort to admit it, the editors of PolitiFact confirmed that Thune was right: “In terms of the number of returns in which people paid the fine, that figure is correct… an independent analysis showed that households in the $25,000 to 50,000 income range paid the highest percentage of income on the penalty.” The Wall Street Journal elaborates further:
More than one in three of taxed households earned less than $25,000, which is roughly the federal poverty line for a family of four. More than 75% of penalized households made less than $50,000 and nine in 10 earned less than $75,000.… These Americans are paying a fine to avoid purchasing a product they don’t want or can’t afford but government compels them to buy.
And Mainers are less able to afford this egregious tax than their New England neighbors. The median household income for Maine is $53,079, according to the latest Census Bureau survey. This is about $4,500 below the median household income for the nation as a whole, and more than $17,000 below the figure for their nearest neighbors in New Hampshire. And it gets worse. New Hampshire residents don’t pay state income tax. Mainers, on the other hand, pay state income tax, property tax, sales tax, annual excise tax on their cars, ad infinitum. The citizens of Maine are lucky to escape with their shirts once the federal, state, and local governments finish with them.
This is why Senator Collins insisted on an amendment to the tax bill that would permit taxpayers to itemize deductions up to $10,000. The Wall Street Journal outlines the deal thus, “The House and Senate bills each allowed only property taxes to be used toward that cap. But under the agreement … that total could be used for property taxes and for either income or sales taxes.” Collins also extracted an amendment that would reduce the threshold for medical expense deductions from 10 percent to 7.5 percent of gross adjusted income, and a commitment from the Republican leadership to forestall any cuts to Medicare that would be automatically triggered by deficits.
If, after reading the above paragraph, you’re wondering how Collins was “duped,” the answer is that she wasn’t. That tale is nothing more than a propaganda campaign conducted by the Democrats and the media to the effect that the GOP leadership will welsh on their deal. This is, of course, a classic case of projection. It is what the Democrats would do in the same situation to any Republican foolish enough to accept verbal assurances from people like Chuck Schumer. The usual suspects fervently hope that Collins will get cold feet and change her vote at the last minute. But those paragons of journalistic integrity at the New York Times are only fantasizing:
What was her mistake? It was both tactical and strategic.… Instead of demanding something real, she accepted vague promises. She can still vote against the version of the bill that emerges from House-Senate negotiations, but she doesn’t have the sway she did before. Senators usually don’t switch their vote at this stage, and the tax bill will pass without her if no other Republican flips (with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie.)
But McConnell and Ryan need Collins too badly to double-cross her. And Collins has constituents in desperate need of relief from the Beltway vampires. The Democrats and the media will continue to ululate about tax cuts for “rich billionaires,” as Al Gore would phrase it, and claim that killing the individual mandate will cause 13 million people to lose their insurance. And there will, of course be the usual crazies showing up at the Senator’s house and office to harass her. But Collins, RINO or not, is a lifelong Mainer with all the cussedness that characterizes the breed. Democrat intimidation tactics and verbally abusive protesters will only harden her resolve.
The individual mandate is a goner.