Broken healthcare pledge tests Collins-McConnell relationship

Dec. 21, 2017

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) will be a crucial swing vote for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) next year, but it may be tougher to strike deals with her after McConnell failed to fulfill a pledge on healthcare.

The moderate senator told reporters this month that she had an “ironclad” commitment from McConnell and Vice President Pence to pass legislation by the end of the year to stabilize ObamaCare premiums. She wanted that assurance before committing her vote for tax reform.

But that vote has now been delayed until January due to opposition from House Republicans.

Collins isn’t accusing McConnell of breaking his pledge but is disappointed in the outcome, according to sources familiar with the negotiations on healthcare legislation.

Those sources added that Collins might think twice the next time GOP leaders promise her something.

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said McConnell will have to keep a close eye on Collins next year when the Senate GOP majority will shrink to 51 because of the election of Doug Jones in Alabama this month.

Collins earlier this month announced that McConnell had promised to pass two bills by year’s end: One authorizing federal subsidies to insurance companies and another funding high-risk pools for older, sicker people.

She said the leader also promised that fellow Republicans would vote to waive an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare required by “Pay-As-You-Go” rules. The cut could have been triggered as a result of passing the tax bill with only 51 votes under special budgetary rules.

President Trump is reportedly waiting until Jan. 3 to sign the bill to prevent the Medicare cuts from taking effect, according to Bloomberg.

But the trickier part for Collins was the ObamaCare markets.

Liberal groups had heaped praise on Collins for helping to thwart the GOP’s ObamaCare repeal legislation over the summer, but those same groups raked her over the coals for backing a tax bill that repeals ObamaCare’s individual mandate. Experts and the Congressional Budget Office have warned that ending the mandate could cause coverage losses and premiums hikes.

Collins countered such criticism by pointing to the assurances she got from McConnell, so liberal critics were quick to pounce once the healthcare bills were pushed into January.

Even so, Collins isn’t taking out her frustration on McConnell — at least not publicly.

She let him save some face by releasing a statement Dec. 20 saying she urged the leader to hold off on advancing legislation authorizing federal subsidies to insurance companies and funding high-risk pools for older, sicker people because there likely would not be time to pass it before Christmas.

The Hill has the full story