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Mainers: Join the Campaign!

1) During business hours, get a real person at one of Sen. Collins’ offices on the phone and urge the Senator to stand up to Trump (see What’s the Ask? for details):

Augusta: (207) 622-8414
Bangor: (207) 945-0417
Biddeford: (207) 283-1101
Caribou: (207) 493-7873
Lewiston: (207) 784-6969
Portland: (207) 780-3575
Washington: (202) 224-2523 +0, to “speak to a staffer”

Collins has been inundated with calls lately, so you’ll probably have to try a few offices before a real person picks up.  Don’t worry: it is a core responsibility of the staffer answering the phone to log ALL constituent calls, no matter which office they call.  Just be sure to tell them your name, town, and zip so they know you’re not from out of state!  See What Do I Do? for more specifics.

2) Log your call here.

3) Get at least two other Mainers to do the same.

Please feel free to call again every day!   Unfortunately there are most likely many more non-Mainers than Mainers calling her right now due to all the national attention she’s getting, but Collins only wants to hear from Mainers, so we Mainers need to do everything we can to get through to a real person and make sure our voices get through!

4) Follow this blog, join the Mainers Calling on Collins Facebook group, or follow @pj_maine on Twitter for action item updates!

This is the week to stop the Trumpcare Train

UPDATE 6/27/17 8AM:

In what looks like a true demonstration of political courage, Collins announced strong opposition to the Senate Trumpcare bill a few hours after the CBO score came out last night. In a three tweet message, she stated that she would not even vote to advance the bill for debate, and wanted to work with both parties to “fix the flaws in the ACA.”  In doing so, she provided the critical third vote needed to block debate on the bill, so it’s fairly clear her announcement wasn’t approved by McConnell.  There is some risk that McConnell could persuade some of the no votes to change their minds with side deals, however, so until the bill is officially pulled it’s important for us to keep calling to thank Collins for her position and urge her to both stand firm and persuade her colleagues to join her. 

To all who have called and protested Senator Collins on this issue over the last several months, THANK YOU!  Constituent pressure was clearly a huge factor in moving her from “repeal & replace” to “repair & improve.”  You made this happen.

This week is the greatest test of the Resistance thus far.  If we can stop Trumpcare in the Senate this week, Republicans will likely give up on the idea of ACA repeal altogether.  But if it passes the Senate this week, it will most likely pass quickly through the House and be signed into law.

After weeks of secretive negotiations in which Senator Collins was not included, Mitch McConnell finally released a draft of the Senate version of the Trumpcare bill, dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA).  It is extremely similar to the House bill (AHCA), but with even deeper cuts to Medicaid.  Like the House bill, it is not really a health care bill, but rather a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle class to the wealthy and insurance companies.

 

The bill needs the votes of 50 Senators to pass, meaning McConnell can only lose two Republicans.  Thus far, many have been voicing concerns–both conservative and more moderate Republicans–and five have said they can’t vote for it in its current form.  None of those have been no hard “no’s”, however, so most of them are likely just threatening opposition now to get some small concession in the final bill.

As for Collins, she’s been expressing deep concern about the bill, focusing her concerns on the Medicaid cuts, the impact on older Americans, and the overall loss of coverage, but she has refused to take a position on the bill until the CBO score comes out early this week.  This is essentially a dodge; it’s abundantly clear from the CBO score of the House version and the structure of the Senate bill itself that it does not meet Collins’ stated standards for a health care bill, causing 14 million to lose insurance from the ending of the Medicaid expansion alone.  She certainly seems to be setting herself up to oppose the bill immediately after the CBO score comes out, but because McConnell is planning to jam the bill through the Senate by the end of this week, that would leave very little time for Collins’ opposition to sway any of her colleagues.

We need Collins to do more than just vote no on the bill.  We need her to oppose it loudly and early, and to try to sway her colleagues to oppose it, too.  So the new action item is to ask Collins to announce her opposition to the Trumpcare bill, and persuade her colleagues to do the same.  Call every day, get your fellow Mainers to call, protest, do whatever you can.

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

Trumpcare moves to the Senate

What House Republicans did yesterday was utterly unconscionable.  Without bothering to wait for an official CBO estimate of what it would cost or how many would lose coverage from it, they passed a health care bill that eviscerates Medicaid, dramatically reduces subsidies for rural, older, poorer, and sicker Americans, bars Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood, and, thanks to the final revisions that allowed its passage, allows states to return to the wild west of preexisting conditions and inadequate health plans. The CBO estimate on the previous version of the bill said it would cause at least 24 million Americans to lose health insurance coverage, and the final revisions can’t have made those numbers any better.  Nevertheless, they passed it.  With Bruce Poliquin’s help.

A main reason the bill is so terrible as health policy is that it’s really a tax cut bill disguised as a health care bill; it directly transfers $1 trillion from health care funds to the wealthy, and–thanks to a complicated Paul Ryan scheme–would allow even more massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations to be made permanently.  The main reason the bill has been so rushed is that it needs to pass through the 2017 budget reconciliation process, which reports suggest can’t really be dragged out beyond the summer, and is holding up the tax cut bill, meant to be passed later in the year as the 2018 budget reconciliation bill.  This, combined with Trump’s personal interest in getting the bill passed so they can move on to tax cuts, means that there will be intense pressure on McConnell to get a Trumpcare bill passed soon.  The good news is that reconciliation rules require bills to get CBO scores before they’re voted on, so McConnell won’t be able to ram a bill through anywhere near as quickly as just happened in the House.

Early signs are that McConnell is looking for Senate Republicans to put together their own, somewhat less awful, Trumpcare bill that is conservative enough to pass the House. He’s assembled a working group of 13 Senators to draw up a Senate bill, but since he excluded Senators Collins and Cassidy–who are the only Senators that have been actively working on an ACA replacement bill and who sit on relevant committees (both on HELP and Cassidy also on Finance)–but included Cruz and Lee, who don’t sit on any of the three relevant committees but have close ties to the House Freedom Caucus and criticized the original Trumpcare bill from the right, it seems his plan is to get 50 votes by keeping the bill conservative enough for Cruz/Lee/Paul, risking the loss of Collins and one other moderate Republican.  To become law, any bill that passes the Senate will either need to pass the House unchanged, or be negotiated in conference with the House, so a Senate bill negotiated to please Cruz & Lee would be much likelier to pass the House become law than a more moderate one negotiated with Collins.  It seems likely she will ultimately be cut out of the process.

Senator Collins issued a statement soon after the bill’s passage in the House outlining several specific areas of concern, and a general principle that any reform should expand access to affordable health care.  With the House version of Trumpcare being so unbelievably awful, there is a risk that a somewhat less awful Senate bill causing, say, only 10 million people to lose coverage, could be hailed as a great compromise that increases coverage.  We need to push Collins to insist that any ACA replacement result in an increase in coverage from the ACA status quo, as determined by the CBO.  If she takes that clear stand, it will help frame the issue for the media and for her colleagues, making it more about policy outcomes and CBO estimates than about simply winning 50 votes.

Health care coverage is a matter of life and death for many.  We need to demand that our elected officials treat it that way.

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

Zombie Trumpcare is back!

In the past few weeks, a swirl of different issues where Collins’ leadership could make a difference have come and gone–Trump’s tax returns, new revelations about inadequate staffing (and partisan stonewalling) on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump’s threats to blow up ACA insurance markets by withholding cost sharing reduction payments, and of course her resolute opposition to holding a town hall–and it’s been difficult to find an issue where sustained strategic pressure on Senator Collins might make a major difference.  But Trumpcare is back from the dead in the House, and we need Collins’ help to kill it.

The first Trumpcare bill spectacularly failed to get to a vote in the House in late March since it was too heartless for the moderates and not heartless enough for the Freedom Caucus.  However, recent negotiations between the two have apparently brought the Freedom Caucus on board via an amendment that would let individual states opt out of two of the ACA’s most popular provisions: covering those with preexisting conditions (high-risk pools instead), and including 10 essential health benefits in all insurance plans.  This amendment pulls the bill further to the right, and is again being opposed by all major health industry groups because it keeps the disaster of a health policy that was the first bill, and makes it even worse.

Nevertheless, House leadership seems intent to whip up votes for the bill this week, putting significant pressure on moderates to let the bill pass and place the ball in the Senate’s court.  Speaker Ryan surely knows that the bill as amended would need 60 votes to pass the Senate, but he seems to be hoping that at worst, he’ll be able to say he did his part, and at best, he’ll ultimately be able to sell a subsequent watered down version coming out of the Senate to the Freedom Caucus as their only chance at having ACA repeal signed into law.

So where does this leave Collins? Collins spoke out against the original version of the Trumpcare bill in March, but only in its current form, meaning that she was more than willing to work on revising it if it passed the House.  We need her to reiterate her opposition now.  If she speaks up, it will help show that the bill does not have a future in the Senate, spooking House members in swing districts to vote no.

And, if you happen to live in the second district, please call Poliquin, too!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

 

 

Don’t change the Senate rules!

UPDATE (4/6/17 1pm): Collins just voted for the nuclear option in a strict 52-48 party-line vote, forever lowering the threshold for Supreme Court nominees from 60 to 51.  With the Dems no longer able to filibuster, Gorsuch will sail through his final vote tomorrow, with the support of Collins, all other Republicans, and a few red state Democrats.  Collins apparently made a failed attempt to broker a compromise with Manchin and McCain, but the fact that Collins ultimately voted for the nuclear option despite calling it “tragic” “bad for the court” and “bad for the Senate” speaks volumes about the degree to which party loyalty impacts her decision making.  I’ll post a new action item soon, but until then, please call to let her know how disappointed you are in her vote to make the Senate, and the Supreme Court, more partisan, ideologically-driven institutions.

In the week since Collins announced her opposition to the Trumpcare bill, which subsequently exploded in spectacular fashion on Friday, I’ve been wondering what the next strategic pressure point on our senior Senator should be that meets our criteria of being an issue she’s both gettable on and has direct control over.  That issue has finally arrived: the coming vote to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

It’s certainly not a sexy sounding issue, but hear me out.  Despite his ability to smile through days of Senate questioning without showing his cards, Neil Gorsuch is an extremely conservative Supreme Court nominee, at least as conservative as Scalia himself and possibly more conservative than any of the current justices.  More importantly, the seat he’s been nominated to fill was stolen from President Obama by Mitch McConnell, who had the Senate abdicate its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide advice and consent on Supreme Court nominees for nearly a year in the hopes that a Republican would be elected President.  Susan Collins was one of the few Republicans to meet with Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, and encouraged her colleagues to do the same, but Garland didn’t get so much as a hearing before the Republican controlled Judiciary Committee.

In response to massive constituent pressure, Senate Democrats have decided to mount a filibuster against Gorsuch, and as long as fewer than 8 of them defect, they’ll succeed.  If that happens, McConnell has signaled that he will employ what’s known as “the nuclear option” to change the rules of the Senate, forever lowering the number of Senators needed to advance a Supreme Court nomination from 60 to 50 (not counting the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote).  Harry Reid made a similar move in 2013, lowering the threshold to 50 for all executive branch and lower court nominees in the face of unprecedented obstruction of Obama’s judicial and executive brand appointments by McConnell.

So what about Collins?  Based on her glowing statement after meeting with him, she’s clearly going to vote for Gorsuch, but it’s not clear that she would support McConnell in permanently eliminating the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.  She holds great respect for the Senate’s rules and norms, and in both of the last two battles over the nuclear option–as part of the famous “Gang of 14” in 2005 and again in 2013–she worked to negotiate a bipartisan compromise to avoid triggering it.  Regarding McConnell’s threats to invoke the nuclear option for Gorsuch, she’s said she’s “not a proponent of changing the rules of the Senate” but has also indicated that it might be necessary, saying she’d be “very disheartened if we had to take that step.”  McCain, Graham, Flake, Murkowski and others could all conceivably join Collins in stopping the nuclear option, and it would only take three Republicans to force McConnell to negotiate a deal with Schumer to preserve the filibuster and make some amends for stealing the Garland seat.

So let’s start calling on Collins to oppose the nuclear option!  The vote to end the filibuster on Gorsuch is likely to happen on April 6, and if the Democrats are successful in sustaining it, McConnell will likely move immediately to invoke the nuclear option and get Gorsuch confirmed before the April recess starts on April 8.  There’s no time to waste!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

The repeal bill is coming…FAST!

UPDATE: Good news! The Senator has now come out against the Trumpcare bill!  She is only opposing it “in its current form,” however, and is holding out hope that it can be revised enough for her to support it.  Thanks to all who called and acted to move her in the right direction on this!  We don’t want to let up the pressure entirely until ACA repeal gets taken off the table, but for now I’m revising the action item to be thanking her for coming out against the AHCA, and urging her to oppose any further efforts at ACA repeal. 

————–

I was on a business trip this week that made it very difficult for me to keep up with political news, and I clearly picked the wrong week!  I’ve now caught myself up–at least on the health care front, where I think constituent pressure has the greatest potential to do the greatest good right now–and I want to take a stab at explaining where things stand.

After weeks of speculation about what the ACA repeal & replacement bill might look like (including Collins’ own not-entirely-awful bill which was always DOA due to its need for 60 votes), Republican leaders have finally decided on a revised plan for repealing the ACA: rapidly ram it through the House in a form that could pass the Senate with only 50 votes, then immediately take it to the Senate floor before the early April recess and dare Senate R’s to get in the way of the runaway train delivering their #1 policy goal.  Given how slowly health legislation is supposed to be developed, and how much of a political quagmire health care reform is in this country–seven Presidents tried to do it before Barack Obama finally succeeded with the help of congressional supermajorities–this seems a hail mary pass strategy on the part of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.  But with the bill triggering $600 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy and enabling a massive $2.4 trillion in further tax cuts to the wealthy, there is definitely a chance that 50 Senate R’s will fall in line and it will pass.

The Ryan/McConnell gambit is truly extraordinary in the degree to which it is tossing aside the norms of the traditional legislation process.  The bill–now known as the AHCA–was drafted in secret, with only certain House Republicans allowed to see it last week before its public announcement on Monday. Instead of getting deliberated and revised in House committees for months as was done with the ACA, the bill passed both its key House committees on party-line votes on Thursday, only three days after its unveiling.  Next week, the bill will be voted on in the House Budget committee, followed by a vote in the full House by the end of the month. Incredibly, Mitch McConnell has even suggested that he may bring the House bill directly to the Senate floor for a vote, bypassing revisions and votes in the Senate HELP (on which Collins sits) and Finance committees.  Finally, the Congressional Budget Office has not even completed its score of the bill to estimate how many people would be covered and at what cost, a step that has historically been fundamental to how bills take shape.

The strategy of racing forward with the bill’s passage is largely because the bill stinks.  No one likes it.  Even without the official CBO score, the consensus is that it will result in many millions fewer people having health coverage, and that older, poorer, and more rural Americans in particular will be much worse off.   Many economists believe the AHCA’s current language will trigger a death spiral in insurance markets.  The only people who are better off under the bill are the wealthy, to whom will flow $600 billion in tax cuts.

 

So where is Collins on all this?  She sat with Katie Couric two days after the AHCA bill was released and admitted she “wasn’t crazy about it” but wanted to reassure America that it was very much a “work in progress.”  She is clearly hoping to slow the legislative process down and improve the bill, but still seems supportive of repealing the ACA in general, which she falsely suggests is already “in a death spiral in many states” (at 2:20 in the interview).  It seems as though she’s sat in so many caucus meetings over the years where she’s been fed negative Republican talking points about the ACA that she’s incapable of seeing it as the largely successful policy it has been. Some reverse-brainwashing from constituents who have benefited from the law is desperately needed.

The good news is that the AHCA is in danger of losing Senators on the right, too, with Paul and Lee signaling displeasure with the bill, Cruz needing serious convincing, and many House Republicans in danger of withdrawing their support if the measure to halt Planned Parenthood funding is removed–something that would likely be necessary to win over Collins and Murkowski.  This all means that finding a final bill that 50 Senators will vote for is going to be extremely difficult.

Collins is not likely to take a clear position on the AHCA bill until 1) it’s been scored by the CBO and 2) it’s been passed by the House, both of which will likely occur in the next two weeks.  If we can persuade Collins to come out against the AHCA early, the bill will most likely fail, which will in turn grind the Ryan/McConnell/Trump legislative agenda to a halt.

So let’s get to work and start calling on Collins to oppose the AHCA bill!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

 

 

 

Forget Collins’ bill. It’s all about repeal.

For those of you who made it out to the open air town hall in Portland today, you heard me give a quick version of this earlier post.  Allow me to elaborate a bit here.

If done via the obscure rules of budget reconciliation, repealing the ACA requires only 50 senators’ votes to pass in the Senate vs. the 60 typically needed to overcome a filibuster.  Before the inauguration in January, the Senate voted along party lines–with the help of Senator Collins–to start the process of ACA repeal via a reconciliation bill.  The next step is for the Senate Finance Committee and HELP Committee (of which Collins is a member) to work together to draft an actual ACA repeal bill to be voted on.   Thankfully, that process has been stalled considerably due to delays in the cabinet confirmation process and massive infighting and hesitation among Republicans about the path they should take forward; the resolution recommended a deadline of January 27th for the repeal bill to be written by the two committees*, but no draft has been completed by either committee and they seem to be falling further and further behind.  The repeal process is still slowly churning forward, though, and until Collins and two other Republicans come out unequivocally against it, ACA repeal is very much a possibility.

ACA replacement, however, is a pipe dream.  That’s because any true replacement that addresses non-budget related aspects of the ACA, such as banning preexisting conditions or establishing lifetime limits, can’t be passed via reconciliation and therefore needs 60 votes to pass.  That would require 8 Democrats to vote for it, which simply will not happen in the Senate as it stands today.  Republicans seem to think that if they pass their repeal bill and it blows up the insurance markets as economists expect, Democrats will be forced to come to the table and vote for a replacement bill, but Democrats have stayed true to their original strategy: if you break it, you own it.  Therefore, no comprehensive replacement bill is passing.  Not Collins’ bill, or anyone else’s.

If you ask Senator Collins about the ACA, as a group of representatives from Mainers for Accountable Leadership did yesterday, she will happily talk at length about her own replacement bill, but will not mention the fact that it needs 60 votes.  She did let slip in the MFAL meeting the fact that the reconciliation-friendly parts of her bill would need to be separated out in order for them to pass (see 36min video here, starting at at 13:40):

It’s difficult because we’re doing it using a process call reconciliation.  And so, it may have to be, some of the provisions would be in the bill and some–some would not–would follow on…

Just how she envisions getting the 60 votes she’d need for the bits that would “follow on” is unclear.  But she’s been in the Senate long enough–having witnessed the year-long saga Harry Reid had to endure to pass the ACA when he had 59-60 Democrats–to know that replacement is not politically possible, making all her efforts to focus attention on her dead-on-arrival bill seem like an elaborate smokescreen, distracting the media, and Americans, from the real imminent threat: repeal without replacement.

We can all happily discuss the merits of the Cassidy-Collins bill, or any other good-faith efforts to repair or improve the ACA to which many Democrats might well be open, but first, Collins and her Republican colleagues must drop the threat of repeal.  If they truly wanted to replace or repair the ACA, they could just focus on passing legislation for that without first passing a bill to destroy the whole thing.  With repeal, Republicans are threatening to toss a grenade into insurance markets, then ask for help from Democrats in reconstructing them.  It’s time to put down the grenade, Senator.

So I’m changing our action item back to asking the Senator to commit to vote against ACA repeal.  Though it may take weeks, Collins is gettable on this.  If we can get her to oppose the reconciliation bill publicly, it will make it much easier for other R’s to jump ship, too.  Nationally, the constituent blow back on ACA repeal is massive and growing, not to mention the push back from insurers, hospital groups, big pharma, and all the other health industry groups who all have a strong interest in keeping the ACA in place.  And if we stop ACA repeal, we will throw the entire Republican legislative agenda off track, since they are counting on repealing the ACA taxes on the wealthy to allow them to fund tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.  We Mainers just need to convince the first domino to fall.

Thanks for all you do,

Paul

 

*Just prior to the first reconciliation vote, Collins got press for joining a group of several nervous Republican senators in proposing an extension to the deadline from January 27th to March 3rd, but, in classic scared-of-McConnell fashion, they pulled the amendment before it could actually be voted on.

Special Action Item: Delay Pruitt Vote!

UPDATE: Collins voted against delaying Pruitt’s confirmation vote, which failed in a strict party-line vote, 48-51.  The measure would have required 60 votes to pass, so Collins clearly knew it had no chance of passing, but by voting against, she made it crystal clear that she was unwilling to spend a dime of political capital to try to stop Pruitt.  She of course voted no in the final vote, which resulted in confirmed 52-46: Collins was only R to vote no, Heitkamp & Manchin broke D ranks as expected, and McCain and Donnelly were absent.  Collins must be counting on getting headlines as the only Republcisn  to oppose, but the truth is that there is much more she could have done to stop Pruitt.  We need to let her know that her seeming policy of voting against McConnell only when he allows her to ain’t gonna fly with Mainers anymore.  Please call again to let her know how disappointed you are that she didn’t work to delay the Pruitt vote!

The Senate is scheduled for a final vote to confirm Scott Pruitt to head the EPA at 1pm today.  Collins announced earlier this week she would oppose him, but she’s the only R to do so, and Heitkamp & Manchin–two red state Dems from fossil fuel producing states–are supporting Pruitt.  Interestingly, John McCain is apparently missing today’s vote due to travel, so if vote is held today as planned, Pruitt will get confirmed 52-47.

However, just yesterday a judge ordered that 2,500 e-mails between Pruitt and the fossil fuel industry must be released by Tuesday, which has led Senate Dems to start demanding that the final vote be delayed until after those e-mails are released.  Since the Senate is in recess next week, that would be mean a delay of at least 10 days, long enough for the needed 4 votes to be flipped, especially with likely damning revelations in the e-mails and lots of pressure from constituents over the recess week.  As we saw with Puzder’s unexpected withdrawal this week, which was likely triggered by an old Oprah tape, votes can flip if there’s the right level of scandal and focused national attention.

Which brings us to Collins. While it’s great that she’s voting against Pruitt, she made the announcement knowing full well that he’d have the votes needed to be confirmed.  With her pivotal role in the Senate, we need to start expecting her to do more than just showing up to cast her final vote.  If she’s truly passionate about what she’s voting against, she should be willing to spend political capital to lobby her R colleagues and bring them to her side.  If you only vote no when you’re given permission to do so by Mitch McConnell, you’re not being a principled politician, but a craven one.

In this case, the only reasonable and principled choice is to delay the Pruitt vote a week so that all this new, highly relevant information to his nomination can be considered.  Call Collins NOW to ask her to push her colleagues for a delay!  After 1pm it will be too late!

Thanks for all you do,

Paul