The Senate GOP tax bill may be poised to pass with Susan Collins’ help

Good morning from Augusta. Republicans in the U.S. Senate looked closer to delivering their first big legislative achievement of the year after their tax overhaul passed a committee on Tuesday, but some issues remain.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a key vote, also hinted at supporting it after a meeting with President Donald Trump. The Maine Republican’s support may hinge on a balancing act around health policy, and she’s not the only Republican senator who has had to be wooed.

Trump reportedly has said he’ll back two bills aimed at stabilizing the Affordable Care Act if the tax bill passes. The Senate’s plan would repeal the health care law’s individual mandate, which makes Americans get health insurance or face a penalty. Until Tuesday, Collins’ concerns about the bill revolved largely around that. But yesterday, she told media that her concerns were “being addressed” after Trump reportedly backed a Collins-sponsored bill that would give $2.25 billion annually to states with reinsurance funds and the bill from Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Patty Murray, D-Washington, that would resume cost-sharing reduction payments that Trump has halted.

But will that actually stabilize the law? Because negotiations are ongoing, it’s hard to know how all of these policy pieces will fit together. But the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has said that neither the reinsurance bill nor the Alexander-Murray proposal would offset the harm of repealing the mandate. The Congressional Budget Office has said scrapping the mandate would cause 13 million more to be uninsured in a decade and raise individual premiums by 10 percent relative to baseline projections in most years of the next decade.

Republicans also look to have made other concessions to win over deficit hawks in their own party. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, had been threatening a no vote because of deficit concerns. The CBO has said it would raise the federal deficit by $1.4 trillion over 10 years, though Republicans have said economic growth could offset that. But Corker told Bloomberg has he has an agreement in principle to add a “trigger” to the bill that would undo tax cuts if the deficit rises. Bob Bixby, the executive director of the centrist Concord Coalition, which opposes the package, said on Tuesday that Congress should “scale back the provisions in the bill so you can pay for them, then if things work out, then maybe you could cut taxes in the future.” The conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposes a trigger. So, there are many more details to be worked out here.

LePage PAC leader rejoins his staff as key adviser

Gov. Paul LePage announced Tuesday that Holly Lusk will return to his office from the lobby. Lusk, who was formerly LePage’s adviser on a range of issues related to health policy, returned to his office Monday as his deputy chief of staff and legislative policy director. She has worked most recently for Preti Flaherty and is still listed as treasurer for ICE PAC, the governor’s political action committee that spent $370,000 during the 2016 legislative elections. According to Maine Ethics Commission data compiled by the BDN’s Darren Fishell, Lusk reported lobbying on 126 individual bills in 2017.

Poliquin’s anti-harassment bill up for a vote today

The proposal calls for mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for members of the House of Representatives and their staffs. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, introduced the bill earlier this month with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California. Speier has been vocal on the issue of sexual misconduct in Congress, saying she was forcibly kissed by a congressman as a 23-year-old staffer.

Poliquin will also be at a hearing on dangerous conditions at the VA

He requested today’s subcommittee hearing after a report found deficiencies in how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports medical malpractice. That report came from the Government Accountability Office this month after a bombshell USA Today investigation uncovered 230 secret settlement deals with medical personnel. It found that Thomas Franchini, a former surgeon at Togus VA Medical Center, was responsible for at least 88 mistakes. Poliquin, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has introduced a bill that would require VA staff to report to state licensing boards if they witness questionable treatment from other VA employees. Today’s hearing featuring top VA officials is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Reading list

  • Curious about how many poor kids from your local high school go on to college? Fishell shares some data that lead to the unsurprising conclusion that students who attend schools in more affluent districts are more likely to complete college programs within six years after leaving high school. While the trend might not be surprising, Fishell provides tools to drill down on a school-by-school basis.
  • A York seafood company is providing employees with both primary care and health insurance. Maine Coast still offers insurance to employees, but it’s now partnering with a York doctor who provides primary care for a $60 flat monthly fee that includes four visits per year. Under the optional program, the company pays 70 percent of costs for that care, which doesn’t tap into private health insurance.
  • A Portland high school is getting more minority students to enroll in Advanced Placement classes. Maine Public has this item from Deering High School, where the number of AP students has nearly doubled from 2014 to 2016 and the number of black students in those classes has gone up by more than four times. Officials and students chalk it up to new emphasis on a program allowing any student to take AP classes and a Somali assistant principal who challenges his students.

Wanted: Patriots

An eagle-eyed Daily Brief reader flagged an intriguing new ZipRecruiter post. Apparently, the Donald Trump Patriots are hiring a social media marketing director and political coordinator in Maine.

The group does not seem to be hiring in other states now, but more than 30 people have already applied here.

They’re full-time jobs that pay better than most journalism gigs in Maine. So we had to look into them. For professional reasons.

We didn’t find much more than a website. But we didn’t look all that hard. We have real jobs.

Donald Trump Patriots formed last year, in part to help Trump “drain the swamp” and hold him to his campaign promises. Its chief focus seems to be to enact congressional term limits because “with the American people and Donald Trump coming together for a common goal of political reform through congressional term limits, there is no doubt we will make America great again.”

Maine has a long history of re-electing congressional members. In fact, no incumbent in the 2nd U.S. House District has lost in more than a century. And our senators consistently rank near the top of voter approval ratings. So these Patriots face a much more daunting task than the football team that shares their name. Here is their soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.