Remember that day last July, when Sen. Susan Collins got a hero’s welcome at the Bangor International Airport because she’d just stood up to her Republican Party and refused to deep-six the Affordable Care Act?

“It was absolutely extraordinary,” Collins said at the time, referring to the standing ovation she received upon walking off her plane and into the airport gate area. “It was just so affirming of what happens when you do the right thing.”

Fast-forward to Friday, when Collins fell into line with all but one of her fellow Republican senators and rammed through a hastily constructed, far-reaching tax “reform” bill that none of them had even had time to read.

Cheering masses?

Not on your life.

While protesters headed for her offices in Portland and Bangor, pleading for her to stiffen her spine once again and get off this unfolding train wreck, what did Collins do?

She unleashed a Twitter storm.

Over a series of 10 tweets throughout the day – Collins self-congratulated her way through one of the darkest days in recent memory on Capitol Hill:

“Delighted that the Senate has agreed to include my property tax deduction amendment,” she announced in one tweet.

“The Sen. bill will include my amendment to reverse ill-advised elimination of catch-up contributions to retirement accounts for church, charity, school, & public employees,” she said in another.

Said yet another, “Very pleased (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) committed to support passage of two (important) bills before year’s end to mitigate premium increases. …”

The tweets, along with an 832-word statement announcing that she’d support the tax bill, clearly aimed to portray Collins as fighting tooth-and-nail for an array of concessions in exchange for her precious vote.

But in the end, it all felt like damage control – a preview of Collins’ self-justification when (not if) this legislation balloons the national debt, brightens the already brilliant balance sheets of corporate America, bestows even greater riches on the upper class and leaves the rest of us wondering, “Wait … what?” as the nation’s wealth gap grows ever wider.

Collins predicted in her statement that the tax bill, which at its core slashes the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, will spur “the creation of good jobs and greater economic growth.”


Then why, at a gathering of top chief executives hosted earlier this month by The Wall Street Journal, did only a few hands go up when the moderator asked if passage of the tax bill would prompt them to increase their corporate investments (and thus stimulate the economy).

“Why aren’t the other hands up?” asked a chagrined Gary Cohn, the White House chief economic adviser and former head of Goldman Sachs, as he looked on from the stage. “Why aren’t the other hands up?”

Here’s a hint: Back in July, Bank of America surveyed corporations how they’d use proceeds from a cut in foreign-earned investments – another key component of the just-passed Senate bill.

The corporations’ top three responses, in descending order: Pay down debt, buy back shares of stock from investors and pursue mergers and acquisitions (also known as job killers).

Capital expenditures came in a distant fourth. So much for making America great again.

Collins knew all of this as she mulled her vote last week. She also knew that the tax bill – even after factoring in increased economic activity – would pump up the national debt by $1 trillion over the next decade, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.

Collins’ response: The nonpartisan committee’s calculations are off.

So there.

Never mind that “trickle-down” economics, the age-old theory that cutting taxes on the rich eventually benefits even the poor, has consistently been shown to achieve the exact opposite.

And never mind that Collins, who complained loudly last summer about the haste with which her party was trying to torpedo the Affordable Care Act, uttered not a peep last week about a major tax overhaul – the largest in more than three decades – that received not a single public hearing. Not one.

To the contrary, the 479-page bill hit the Senate floor with hastily handwritten “fixes” still cluttering the margins.

(As Sen. Angus King so aptly put it Friday morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “The Bangor City Council wouldn’t amend the leash law using this process.”)

Even Collins’ pushback against her leadership is of dubious merit: What good is retaining a property-tax deduction of up to $10,000 if, under the new, higher standard deduction, far fewer Mainers will itemize their deductions in the first place?

And while we’re on the topic of state and local deductions, what happened to Collins’ earlier concern that state income tax also remain deductible? Under the just-passed Senate bill, it won’t.

And how about Collins’ ultimate cave: She agreed to strike at the very heart of the Affordable Care Act, which only months ago she bravely helped save, by voting to eliminate the mandate that requires everyone to buy insurance and thus spreads the cost among those who are healthy as well as those who aren’t.

After meetings with both President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell last week, she said she’d been persuaded that they will support two bipartisan bills – one proposed by Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander, the other by Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson – aimed at helping the insurance industry keep costs down even without the individual mandate.

Two problems here.

First, a slew of analyses show that the two bills wouldn’t even come close to offsetting the higher premiums and other adverse impacts of eliminating the individual mandate.

Second, at the same time the Senate was slapping together its tax bill late last week, an ever-growing chorus of eminent psychiatrists not only warned in The New York Times that President Trump appears to be going off the deep end, but also offered to perform an “urgent evaluation” of his mental state.

And Collins is banking on promises from this guy?

And, after all her resistance to McConnell earlier this year, does she truly believe he’ll have her back when her health care bill runs into heavy turbulence, as it inevitably will, among conservative Republicans in both chambers of Congress?

The good news, if it can be called that, is that this is not over.

The tax bills now passed by the House and Senate must still be reconciled in a conference committee, where the “concessions” won by Collins are sure to raise the hackles of, say, the notoriously recalcitrant House Freedom Caucus.

Meaning Collins could still find her way out of this mess.

She need only to listen, one more time, to the throngs of Mainers who have no difficulty discerning the difference between true leadership and false posturing, between doing what one knows is right and doing what one is told.

It is indeed late, Sen. Collins, but not too late.

You can still give Maine something to cheer about.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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