Maine Sen. Susan Collins is rightly known as a hard-working, moderate problem-solver who is always willing to negotiate when it can lead to a better outcome.

But when it comes to her party’s tax reform plan, she should take a few days off.

This hyperpartisan bill is not worth the effort. It would blow out the federal deficit and interfere with the delivery of health care to pay for an economically unjustified tax cut that goes mostly to wealthy individuals, families and corporations.

This is not a time for tinkering – it’s a time to start over. When the bill comes up for a vote this week, we hope Collins will say “no,” and convene a serious effort to build a bipartisan tax reform bill designed to help the people who really need help — the nation’s struggling middle class.


Any rewrite of the tax code is going to be complicated, and this one is no exception. But it’s important that people look past the details and see what’s at the heart of this legislation.


At its core, this is a tax cut worth $5 trillion over a decade, which is offset by about $3 trillion in tweaks to loopholes and other gimmicks. It adds about $2 trillion to the deficit, but the Senate version makes it look like less, with the actuarial trick of making the individual tax cuts expire before the end of the decade.

Before voting for any version of this bill, Collins should ask why a tax cut of this size is necessary. Most economists would say that it’s not.

We are not in recession, as we were in 2009, when deficit spending was used to fund tax cuts designed to pump cash into the economy and boost demand. We are not running a budget surplus, as we were in 2001, when the Bush tax cuts were approved. The government’s operating deficit was $666 billion last year, far from the balanced budget that most Republicans say they support when they run for office. But corporate profits and the stock market are near record highs.


Most of Collins’ criticism of the tax bill has focused on its effect on health care financing, which is appropriate, since the bill would create havoc in insurance markets and people’s lives if it were to pass.

The bill’s authors claim to offset $338 billion of lost revenue caused by the tax cuts by eliminating the requirement that almost everyone buy health insurance or pay a penalty. That is budgeted as savings, because millions of people would be expected to go without health insurance, and many of them would have been eligible for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.


But Collins knows that this is a terrible way to save money. The people who would drop their insurance to avoid paying premiums are likely to be the youngest and healthiest in the risk pool.

The group that opts for insurance, on the other hand, is older and sicker, which would drive up premiums, leading more people to drop coverage.


Collins has proposed two ways to work around this — restoring cost-sharing subsidies that help low-income people afford lower-premium plans with high deductibles, and giving states money to start high-risk pools, which bail out insurance companies for the most catastrophic cases.

Both of these are good ideas, but they wouldn’t undo half the damage caused by eliminating the individual mandate. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that without the mandate, 13 million more people would be uninsured by 2027, and individual market insurance premiums would increase by 10 percent a year for the whole decade. Passage of the cost-sharing bill that Collins supports would have little impact on those numbers, according to the CBO.

The high-risk pools are not the answer, either. Larry Levitt, a health policy expert with the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a written statement Tuesday that the federal government would need to spend $10 billion annually to offset the premium increases caused by repealing the individual mandate. Collins’ bill would raise only $2.5 billion.



There are many other reasons to vote against this package.

Increasing the deficit this much would trigger automatic spending cuts to existing programs, mandating a $25 billion cut to Medicare next year.

It would also provide a back-door approval to drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It would reward corporations that have avoided paying taxes by stashing profits overseas.

But even if all of those issues were fixed, this would still be the wrong bill for Maine and the nation.

Collins should join her colleague, independent Sen. Angus King, and vote against the Senate bill this week. Then she could work to bring together a bipartisan majority on a real middle-class tax reform bill, something that would be worth her effort.

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