Before the ink was dry on promises made to Senator Susan Collins to secure her vote on the GOP tax bill, it began to vanish.
As she let the world know last week, she got the president and Mitch McConnell to promise they would support two pieces of health-care legislation that she believed (erroneously, as it happens) would offset the negative effects, on health-care coverage and premiums, of the tax bill’s repeal of the Obamacare insurance-purchasing mandate. In the case of McConnell, the promise was very specific:
Collins told reporters Wednesday that she has a commitment from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that both Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson bills are “must-pass” bills this year.
Since the only vehicle for “must-pass bills this year” is the spending package that Republicans and Democrats are negotiating in order to avoid a government shutdown, I observed at the time that McConnell was making a promise that only Chuck Schumer could actually redeem. But I was thinking too far down the road: It turns out that House Republicans are quickly repudiating the deal before it even gets to any bipartisan negotiating table.
Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) office told a meeting of congressional leadership offices on Monday that the Speaker is not part of a deal to get ObamaCare fixes passed before the end of the year, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
And House conservatives, who have always deplored any Obamacare stabilization measure, haven’t changed their minds:
“We still have the same issues. Nothing has changed in the last two months just because we’re fulfilling our promise on delivering on tax reform,” Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Daily Beast. “I find it problematic to be promising something that the House has shunned from very early on.”
Some observers are lumping the assurances Jeff Flake got on DACA as equivalent to Collins’s deal, but the promises made to Flake were both vague and not at all linked to any timetable. The senator from Maine got a commitment for presidential and Senate leadership support for very specific legislation, and from McConnell at least, a very specific timetable (before the end of 2017). It now appears that one reason for last night’s surprising House conservative threat to the routine measure to appoint tax-bill conferees was to place deals like those struck by Collins totally off the table.
So far Collins’s other demand for her tax vote — inclusion of the House provision continuing a limited deduction for local property taxes — hasn’t been repudiated by House Republicans, for obvious reasons. But since it would cost the Treasury around $600 billion over ten years, it’s not entirely safe in House-Senate negotiations that will revolve around keeping the ultimate deal compliant with Senate budget rules.
Susan Collins is an experienced, savvy legislator. She knew when she cut her deals with Trump and McConnell that they would be worthless if the House didn’t go along. She could have demanded assurances from Ryan and conservative leaders, too — certainly she could have demanded the moon at the point where it appeared she might be the decisive vote in the tax bill.
What this series of events shows is that Collins, like the other alleged “holdouts,” really wanted to “get to yes,” as we kept hearing last week. If that meant securing a promise written in vanishing ink, so be it.