Good morning from Augusta. Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives struck a deal on a tax package on Wednesday and while Sen. Susan Collins hasn’t yet seen a printed bill, a spokeswoman said she’s confident that changes she has pushed are included.
Collins voted for the Senate bill after three amendments were included and she thinks they’ll be in the final bill. The Republican senator got three amendments into the Senate bill — allowing taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes, reducing a medical expense deduction threshold and allowing public and nonprofit employees to keep making catch-up contributions to retirement accounts. Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark said on Thursday that while the senator hasn’t seen a final version of the House and Senate bill to be voted on next week, she’s “confident” that they’re in the new bill, possibly with some improvements.
But there’s a question of timing on the proposal. The tax bill will still repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and it’s still unclear whether Collins will be able to pass two separate health care changes to offset the impact on premiums. Despite a promise from President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to pass them, House conservatives have been cool to them. Collins also may have to vote on the tax package before Congress takes up the spending bill that would hold the offsetting changes, but Clark said her boss will have a good idea of what’s in the spending package by the tax vote.
Collins was also protested in Washington, D.C., and at home on Wednesday. Whatever happens over the next few days, Collins will be facing progressive opposition. WMTW reported that her Biddeford office was locked on Thursday as protesters urged her to vote against the final bills and activists led by 2017 Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour met with her in Washington, with Collins saying she won’t support the bill if promises aren’t kept.
Correction: An earlier version of this item gave the wrong day for protests. It was Wednesday.
Tech changes at the Department of Labor have delayed unemployment benefits
The department launched its new “ReEmployME” online filing system last week and there have been problems. Approximately 800 people have seen delays in receiving their benefits because their weekly certification filings are not complete. More have seen interruptions for a handful of other reasons. In a news release, the department said “a large number” of claimants have registered for the work search log — where they are supposed to document their efforts to find work — but have not gone online to complete the log. The department’s customer service telephone number is 1-800-593-7660. Online tipsheets about how to use the new system are available here and here.
Collins, King split on controversial Trump judicial nominee
Collins voted for a nominee called not qualified by the American Bar Association; U.S. Sen. Angus King opposed him. The Republican-led Senate confirmed Leonard Steven Grasz on Tuesday as an appeals court judge along party lines. The nomination of the former Nebraska chief deputy attorney general was notable because the American Bar Association unanimously deemed him not qualified — which was only the third time that has happened since 1989. In testimony, it said his conservative positions on social issues “would make it impossible for him to have an unbiased and open mind on critical issues.” In a statement, a Collins spokeswoman said while the ABA recommendation was a factor she considered, she also cited support Grasz got from 150 attorneys and called him “an accomplished litigator and respected attorney.” A King spokesman said his boss “agreed with the ABA that Mr. Grasz is unqualified for the federal bench.”
Legislative leaders to consider 40 bill requests today
Ten leaders will decide whether bills that would further delay commercial marijuana sales and restrict political committee spending will be considered in 2018. The Legislative Council meets again on Thursday afternoon as they carve out the Legislature’s agenda for next year, in which lawmakers are only supposed to consider “emergency” bills. They have let in more than 90 new bills already. Decisions on another 17 have been delayed and with 23 more after-deadline bill requests. Among the bills to be considered on Thursday are one from Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that would further delay commercial marijuana sales after a legislative regulatory bill died because of a veto from Gov. Paul LePage. Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, wants to close loopholes in campaign finance law by banning legislators from using political action committee funds for personal gain. Lawmakers reconvene on Jan. 3.
- The Medicaid expansion debate renewed Wednesday in Augusta but we’re no closer to resolution. The Legislature’s much-anticipated budget committee meeting to discuss how to pay for it focused more on how much it will cost. LePage’s Department of Health and Human Services says it will cost more than the Legislature’s fiscal office estimates. That’s a problem that will have to be resolved before an appropriation is considered but so far, the executive branch isn’t participating in the process.
- How we tip at restaurants is becoming confusing again. Trump’s administration has proposed allowing restaurants to distribute tips however they want and phase out the tip credit, which lets employers pay tipped workers less. The tip credit, eliminated in a 2015 minimum wage referendum, was restored in June of this year after backlash and a protracted debate.
- Hepatitis A diagnoses are on the rise in Maine. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention say there have been four reports of the viral disease in the past four months and seven in 2017. Officials are urging Mainers to employe safety measures such as handwashing and safe food handling, and for parents to have their children vaccinated.
Is the Brady-Trump bromance on the rocks?
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has long been a vocal Republican and is a documented friend of Trump. Or is he?
According to reports, Brady has not been in contact with Trump much or at all since the election. Brady even skipped the Pats’ visit to the White House after their Super Bowl win in February. Trump isn’t happy about it, according to a New York Times article over the weekend.
Mr. President, you are not the only one. Brady has also not been in contact with the Daily Brief team at all, and we don’t like it. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
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.