Nothing good ever happens on thin ice.

Take, for example, the poor Maine Warden Service pilot who landed Wednesday morning on Eagle Lake in northern Maine. While taxiing to the state’s airplane base, he hit a soft spot and, well, all you can see now is the Cessna’s tail poking through a hole in the surface.

Which brings us to Sen. Susan Collins.

“I’m not pretending that I’m not disappointed and annoyed,” Maine’s senior senator said in a telephone interview late Wednesday, shortly after her much-ballyhooed bargain with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sank like a plane on thin ice.

The deal went like this: In exchange for Collins’ vote for the Republicans’ tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest among us, McConnell promised – promised – that two bipartisan bills aimed at rescuing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, would pass by the end of the year.


Wednesday afternoon, while President Trump and a herd of happy Republicans gathered at the White House to bask in the glow of their newly minted tax “reform,” Collins and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, announced that, alas, their two Obamacare bills will have to wait until next year.

Deadline? What deadline?

Promise? What promise?

Let’s go back to a week ago Tuesday, when I visited with Collins in her office overlooking the U.S. Capitol.

We talked for over an hour about the pivotal role she plays these days in the Senate. In particular, we discussed her then-looming vote on the tax bill, the amendments she’d managed to insert into the package and, last but by no means least, McConnell’s promise regarding the two Obamacare bills in exchange for her “yes” on the tax cuts.

Standing with Collins on the Senate floor back on Dec. 1, the majority leader had pledged to “support passage (of the two bills), ideally prior to the adoption of any final tax reform conference agreement and certainly before the end of this year.”


“The deal is that (the Obamacare legislation) has to pass by the end of the year,” Collins told me last week.

And if it didn’t?

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

She declined to be more specific, noting it wouldn’t be wise to outline her payback options when “things are going well.”

Cue the sound of cracking ice.

While Trump boasted Wednesday outside the White House that “we have essentially repealed Obamacare” (the tax bill eliminates Obamacare’s fiscal cornerstone – the “individual mandate” requiring all Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty – starting in 2019), Collins could only point fingers at those who, in her view, torpedoed her deal with McConnell.

She blamed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who announced last week that Democrats in the Senate would not support the Obamacare rescue legislation as part of a year-end stopgap spending bill.

It was indeed a deal killer: With the Obamacare bills and other add-ons attached, the spending bill would need 60 votes to pass the Senate.

“Maybe I should have been more cynical or skeptical of the Democrats on this, but it never occurred to me that they would pull back on their support. It truly didn’t,” Collins said.

Seriously? When Schumer said on the Senate floor over a month ago that Democrats “will not go for” the so-called Alexander-Murray bill, which restores cost-sharing subsidies to insurers, if the individual mandate is repealed?

If that’s not a warning sign of danger ahead, what is?

Collins also blamed House Republicans for passing a “skinny version” of the stopgap funding bill. That measure left no room for either Alexander-Murray or the bill Collins co-sponsored with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, that would lower insurance premiums through the use of high-risk pools.

Again, did Collins not hear the rumblings from House Republicans that any life buoy for Obamacare, now or whenever, was out of the question?

Put another way, is Collins, a 20-year veteran of the Senate, still so naïve that she simply failed to notice the cracks in her deal with McConnell? Or did she quietly calculate that, if and when the bottom fell out, she’d somehow manage a hasty escape?

Even now, when she’s supposed to be busy meting out all those “consequences,” Collins continues to skate.

She points to the call she received Wednesday, after her vote in favor of the tax bill, from House Speaker Paul Ryan. He promised her, she said, that the Obamacare bills will be taken up first thing next session.

“Paul Ryan called me and volunteered this,” Collins said, “If he were going to say, ‘Phew, that’s over with!’ why would he affirmatively call me?”

I dunno, maybe because Mitch McConnell begged him to?

Collins also noted that the Congressional Budget Office plans to roll out a new model for evaluating the fiscal impact of legislation after the new year and – as Ryan was quick to remind her – the Obamacare legislation will “score” higher and thus direct more money toward shoring up the health insurance markets.

So … the new CBO model isn’t official yet, the Obamacare bills haven’t been scored, and already she knows the outcome? How so?

“I had my staff economist call the CBO and talk to them about it,” Collins replied. “Believe me, I’m not taking anyone’s word for anything.”

Oh, but she is. Her entire game plan right now is based on promises from Trump, whose word is about as trustworthy as an email from Nigeria; from McConnell, who just failed to deliver on one whopper of a promise to Collins; and from Ryan, who’s widely rumored to already have one foot out the door.

Little wonder that much of Washington, D.C., not to mention Maine, now snickers about how Collins got played.

“If I get the bills that I’ve been advocating for passed, but they’re passed six to eight weeks later than I expected, how does that mean I’ve been played?” she asked.

“How do you know you’re going to get them in six to eight weeks?” I countered.

“How do you know I’m not?” she replied.

I don’t.

But like most common-sense Mainers, I know enough to stay off thin ice.

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