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On taxes, what in the world was Susan Collins thinking?

Why did Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) vote for her party's regressive and unpopular tax plan? She has a rationale. It's not exactly persuasive.
Image: FILE PHOTO: Senator Susan Collins talks to reporters
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) talks to reporters as she arrives for a Senate healthcare vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S.on July...

On Oct. 1, the Republican tax plan faced a major problem. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), just a few days after announcing his retirement, appeared on "Meet the Press" and laid down a marker on his party's signature goal.

In unequivocal comments to NBC's Chuck Todd, the Republican senator said, "If it looks like to me, Chuck, that we are adding one penny to the deficit, I'm not going to be for it."

At the time, this spelled trouble for the GOP gambit: if Corker honored his commitment, many assumed at the time, the tax bill would likely fail. After all, it'd only take three Senate Republicans to break ranks, and if Corker joined the handful of GOP moderates in opposition to the regressive plan, Republican leaders would fall short of a majority.

But that's not how it worked out. Corker, to his credit, followed through on his pledge and voted against his party's plan, but literally every other Senate Republican supported the proposal.

That included Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ostensibly the most moderate member of her caucus, who could've voted "no" -- the plan would have passed anyway -- but who nevertheless stuck with her far-right colleagues. As the Bangor Daily News noted yesterday, this didn't sit well with many of Collins' constituents who saw her as a likely ally.

After U.S. Sen. Susan Collins voted early Saturday morning in support of the Republican bill to overhaul the tax code, some Mainers broke out in protest over the weekend, calling Collins' vote a betrayal.Gathered outside Collins' Portland office Friday night before the vote, Mainers for Accountable Leadership co-founder Gordon Adams told Portland-based ABC affiliate WMTW that Collins, who came out in support of Senate the tax bill, "has really let the people of Maine down."With news that Collins had voted overnight in support of the bill, more gathered across the state, including at the Bangor International Airport, in case Collins flew home from Washington, D.C. Voters stood with their backs turned, claiming " Her vote turned her back on ME," according to a Mainers for Accountable Leadership Facebook post.

As it turns out, the Maine senator didn't see those protesters at the airport -- she remained in D.C. over the weekend -- but it's still hard not to wonder what in the world Susan Collins was thinking.

The longtime Republican lawmaker issued a lengthy statement on Friday afternoon, outlining her rationale, touting the "significant relief" the bill would provide to "lower- and middle-income taxpayers," overlooking the millions of Americans who make less than $75,000 who would pay more under the GOP plan once it's fully implemented. Collins also emphasized her efforts to bring the state-and-local-tax-deduction provisions in the Senate bill in line with the House bill.

And while those points certainly matter, the key parts of Collins' defense stressed other bills that haven't yet passed that she believes will mitigate the damage of her party's regressive plan.

"...I was deeply concerned that the repeal of the individual mandate would almost certainly lead to further increases in the cost of health insurance premiums -- premiums that are already too expensive under the ACA. I am very pleased the Majority Leader committed to support passage of two important pieces of legislation before the end of the year to mitigate these increases. The first, the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act introduced by Senators Alexander and Murray, will provide vital funding in 2019 and 2020 for the cost-sharing reductions received by low-income enrollees in the ACA exchanges. [...["I have also heard a great deal of concern from seniors with the Congressional Budget Office's determination that an automatic four percent cut to Medicare, estimated to be roughly $25 billion for fiscal year 2018, could be triggered by the passage of this legislation as a result of the Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 (PAYGO) even though there is no intention for such a reduction to occur. Medicare provides essential benefits to our nation's seniors, and any reduction in funding triggered in this way would be completely unacceptable. I wrote to the Majority Leader urging that we immediately remove the threat of an automatic cut in the program's funding, which has been done on numerous occasions before, and I am pleased that he has said these cuts will be avoided. Speaker Paul Ryan has also joined in this pledge."

In other words, Collins recognizes the fact that her party's tax plan is slated to end health care coverage for 13 million Americans and cut Medicare by tens of billions of dollars, but she voted for the legislation anyway because Republican leaders said they'll soon take up other bills that should help prevent too much damage.

And so, Susan Collins was comfortable making the gamble. What's wrong with that? A few things, actually.

First, to avoid Medicare cuts with a PAYGO waiver, Congress will need to pass a separate bill, which will require, among other things, 60 votes in the Senate. Collins is assuming it'll pass; we don't know whether she's right.

Second, she's counting on the Alexander-Murray compromise measure to help stabilize markets, but even if McConnell keeps his word and the measure clears the Senate, the same policy may run into trouble in the Republican-led House. Collins is counting on the bill becoming law, but it remains to be seen whether her assumptions on this too are correct.

And third, what the Maine Republican hasn't addressed in any detail is the overwhelming evidence that suggests that her proposed "fixes," even if they do pass, simply aren't enough to undo the damage done to the health care system done by the Senate Republican plan.

All things considered, it looks like Collins placed a big bet on a bad hand.