Will Susan Collins Save Medicare?

Collins believes, or claims to believe, that Paul Ryan can be trusted to protect Medicare.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n an electrifying victory that will unquestionably change political calculations all over Washington, Doug Jones was just elected the next Senator from Alabama. If the Republican tax bill is not rushed through Congress before he takes office — an event likely to further infuriate an already roused electorate — Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) will have the power to stop the tax scam and its automatic cuts to Medicare.

By insisting that further action on the tax scam be delayed until the duly elected new Senator is seated, and then voting no, Collins has the opportunity to serve her constituents and the country; she can make up for her vote in favor of the tax bill two weeks ago. That vote, coming from the woman who helped save the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid last summer, was inexplicable, if she really cares about the ability of Americans to get the health care they need.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the tax bill she voted for will result in 13 million fewer people with health insurance and higher health insurance premiums for millions more. In addition, the tax bill will trigger $400 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare over the next decade — including $25 billion in cuts next year — to offset the $1.5 trillion increased deficit, a byproduct of trillions of dollars the bill hands out to billionaires and corporations.

During an appearance on Face the Nation this weekend, Collins claimed that those Medicare cuts will never be implemented, stating: “I don’t want seniors to have the anxiety of wondering whether the tax bill somehow is going to trigger a cut in Medicare. I have it in writing, a statement from both Mitch McConnell and Speaker [Paul] Ryan.”

Susan Collins believes, or claims to believe, that Paul Ryan can be trusted to protect Medicare. She thinks that seniors and Americans with disabilities who rely on the program’s benefits should trust him too. That requires ignoring everything that Ryan has ever said about Medicare.

Just a few days before Collins went on Face the Nation, Ryan went on The Ross Kaminsky Show, a radio program in his home state of Wisconsin. Kaminsky asked if Ryan planned to pursue “reforms” (code for cuts) to Medicare and Medicaid. Ryan’s response: Absolutely. Here is just one excerpt from their conversation:

Kaminsky: In your private conversation with President Trump….do you get the sense that you’re making a little bit of an impact on him when you talk to him about the importance of Medicare reform?

Ryan: I do Ross…This has been my big thing for many many years. I think it’s the biggest entitlement that’s gotta have reform.

This is the man Susan Collins wants the nearly 60 million Americans who rely on Medicare, and the millions more who will be eligible in the future, to put their trust in. The same man who famously admitted that he has been dreaming about cutting benefits since his keg stand days in his twenties. The same man who champions budget plansthat would destroy Medicare by turning it from a guaranteed benefit into a woefully inadequate voucher coupon to purchase insurance on the private market.

Collins expects us to believe that Ryan, who has been gunning for Medicare for years, will pass up the golden opportunity of automatic cuts. If this tax bill becomes law, Ryan could achieve his dream of huge Medicare cuts simply by declining to bring a bill waiving the cuts to the House floor. Alternatively, he could use them as blackmail and say that he will only supply Republican votes to waive the cuts if Democrats agree to other Medicare cuts (such as raising the eligibility age) or to one of his other priorities, like gutting Medicaid or Social Security.

Moreover, even if Ryan could be trusted, he does not have the power to waive the cuts by himself. He has to convince his members, including members of the Freedom Caucus who have stated repeatedly their determination to end Medicare, to go along. Ryan, like his predecessor, Speaker John Boehner, has hardly demonstrated the ability to control his caucus.

Not only is Collins insisting that Ryan is to be trusted, and can deliver the votes, when it comes to protecting Medicare. She is showing the same gullibility — or hypocrisy — with respect to the health care of those not yet of Medicare age. The tax bill she voted for would repeal the individual mandate, an essential provision of the Affordable Care Act. That would result in 13 million people losing their insurance coverage. For those who still remain in the ACA marketplaces, premiums would go up by an average of ten percent.

But Collins claims that these harms will be mitigated because Congress will separately pass the Alexander-Murray agreement to stabilize the marketplaces. Why is she so sure they will pass it? McConnell and Ryan promised…and of course, they would never go back on their word. If they are so willing to pass it, why didn’t they do so already as part of the just-passed extension of the continuing resolution? A different vehicle will make passage even harder.

After her vote to save the ACA this summer, Collins was a hero in her home state, greeted with applause and hugs wherever she went. Now, she has betrayed her constituents and all Americans who rely on Medicare and the ACA. But it’s not too late to make it right.

In their rush to jam the bill through the Senate at 2 a.m., Republican leaders made a big mistake. They effectively eliminated some of their corporate donors’ favorite tax deductions. That means that the Senate will definitely be voting on the tax bill again.

If Collins is on the side of the American people, she will tell Mitch McConnell that he should respect the will of the voters by delaying that vote until Doug Jones is seated. That is consistent with her position eight years ago, when Massachusetts elected Scott Brown to the Senate in a special election right as Democrats were working to pass the Affordable Care Act.

At the time, Collins said that Brown’s election was “an indication that voters in Massachusetts, indeed a majority of Americans, do not support unfettered, one-party rule in Washington” that also reflects “the fact that so many people are appalled at the process by which the health care bill was negotiated.”

The tax bill is much, much more the epitome of the unfettered, irresponsible, one-party rule that Collins decried back in 2010. The GOP is rushing through legislation affecting the entire economy, with no hearings, with handwritten last-minute edits and with a closed-door process that they never even attempted to include Democrats in. It has been far more rushed than the Affordable Care Act, which went through months of hearings. The arguments that Collins used to say that Scott Brown should be seated before any further votes on the ACA (which he was) apply tenfold to Doug Jones.

Collins says that she is undecided on how she will vote when the tax bill comes back to the Senate. Does she really want to put the future of Medicare — not to mention her own political future — in the hands of Paul Ryan? Does she really want to undermine the ACA? Or will she remain consistent with her past positions by demanding that the vote on the tax bill be delayed until Doug Jones is seated, and then vote no?

If you are a Maine voter, help her answer those questions by calling her office at 202-224-2523. Tell her not to be complicit in the destruction of Medicare. Tell her to be consistent with what she said about Scott Brown and what she said just last summer about health care. Tell her to protect the American people by insisting the vote be delayed and then voting no on the tax scam.

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Nancy Altman

Nancy J. Altman has a forty year background in the areas of Social Security and private pensions. She is President of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition and campaign.