How certain Sen. Susan Collins seemed that day back in December. How confident that her political leverage, deftly applied to her fellow Republicans’ teetering tax-reform bill, ultimately would save countless Americans from losing access to health care.

Looking back, how colossally wrong she turned out to be.

“I knew the hyper-partisanship was terrible in Washington,” Collins said in an interview Wednesday from Capitol Hill. “But I did misjudge that it would doom a proposal that would help millions of Americans who are struggling to afford health care insurance. That’s just appalling.”

Let’s go to the tape.

Just over three months ago, with Congress awash in political drama over tax cuts, all eyes were on Collins.

She’d pledged that she would help push the Republican tax bill over the top, which she did, but only on certain conditions.


Several, such as maintaining up to $10,000 in income-tax deductions on state and local taxes, involved amendments to the tax measure itself. Which, to be fair, she got.

But the one demand that attracted by far the most attention was Collins’ insistence on passage of two other bipartisan bills — both aimed at shoring up the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“The deal is that (the ACA stabilization package) has to pass by the end of the year,” Collins told me during an interview in her office on Dec. 12.

She added, somewhat ominously, “If this commitment is not kept to me, believe me, there will be consequences. There really will be. I mean I can’t not have the commitment happen.”

The end of the year came and went. No ACA fix.

“The deadline has slipped,” Collins conceded in a subsequent interview just before the New Year. “I’m very disappointed in that. I’m very unhappy about that. But I think when I talk to you in mid-February, I’m going to be able to say, ‘See, we persevered and we did it.’ And I’m still determined to do so.”


February came and went. Still no ACA fix.

Now, it’s almost April. And last week, amid an outbreak of partisan finger-pointing, the ACA repair package died what was by all accounts a painful death.

Meaning, there will be no $30 billion, spread out over three years, to offset the fallout from the tax bill’s elimination of the individual mandate, which required all people to purchase insurance or pay a penalty.

Nor will there be a restoration of so-called cost-sharing reduction payments, scuttled last fall by the Trump administration, that lowered out-of-pocket deductibles and premiums for eligible policyholders.

In short, with the issuance of new annual premiums looming in October, the ACA is about to go over a cliff. And as it goes, speaking of consequences, so will go millions of Americans whose health care hangs in the balance.

So, as we pick through the wreckage of Collins’ best laid plans, what about those consequences she promised all those months ago?


Is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on whose assurances Collins hung her credibility, about to suffer the wrath of Maine’s senior senator?

Well … um … no. Apparently, we had that part all wrong.

Collins insisted Wednesday that the deal she struck with McConnell back in December, as articulated in a statement they jointly introduced on the Senate floor, called for him to “support” her efforts to bring forth the ACA fixes.

Which he eventually did, she said, by getting behind the ACA legislation when it finally made its way to the full Senate last week as an amendment to the spending bill.

“I feel that Mitch kept his end of the bargain,” Collins said.

Problem was, the ACA measure never made it to a vote. Nor did it make its way onto the spending bill passed by the House, where a standoff developed between Democrats and conservative Republicans over, of all things, abortion.


In a nutshell, the dispute centered on Republican efforts to insert language into the ACA package that would have explicitly invoked the longstanding prohibition on the use of federal funds for elective abortion – commonly referred to as the Hyde amendment.

Meaning, when it was all said and done, women who choose to exercise their right to obtain an abortion could have been denied coverage under their federally subsidized, ACA insurance policies.

Even worse, insurers might have steered clear of abortion coverage altogether for fear of jeopardizing their access to federal ACA subsidies.

Democrats, not surprisingly, objected strenuously to the last-minute insertion of the Hyde language.

Noting that the ACA was originally constructed to allow abortion coverage under federally subsidized health insurance policies, they argued, any efforts to shore up the ACA going forward should do likewise.

Bottom line, for all her assurances way back when that her ACA rescue package “has to pass” or there will be hell to pay, Collins now is reduced to granting McConnell absolution simply for not standing in her way, and blaming this colossal failure on – what else – the inability of the two major parties to get along.


What a far cry that seems from December, when McConnell was but one of the party heavyweights whose promises had Collins convinced, without a sliver of doubt, that her ACA fixes were a slam dunk.

“Seriously,” she said at the time, “the speaker said that I’m going to get them, the president said that I’m going to get them and has said it publicly, the vice president has said it, Mitch McConnell has said it. I have now covered both chambers and the administration and I believe that it will (pass).”

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “To follow by faith alone is to follow blindly.”

Now, all Collins can do is blame anyone and everyone – from Senate Democrats to House Republicans, from House Speaker Paul Ryan to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – for the collapse of a deal built in large part with her own political capital.

“I just think this was such a lost opportunity,” Collins said. “And I cannot believe that we have reached the point in Washington where partisan politics, and everyone looking at who’s going to lose or gain in the November election, poisoned a chance and prevented us from really helping people. That’s the lesson that I took from this.”

Here’s another: Shaky promises are like boomerangs – no matter how well you launch one, it’s going to come back on you.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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