Collins holds out, King assails process as GOP tax push gets harder

Good morning from Augusta. Senate Republicans’ unity around their tax bill broke down overnight as they scrambled to change it after an analysis found that it would blow a $1 trillion hole in the federal deficit over a decade.

Maine’s U.S. senators were playing key roles in Thursday’s action: Sen. Susan Collins remains one of only a few remaining Republican holdouts, while independent Sen. Angus King created some chaos with an amendment to send the bill back to committee that ended up failing. It may see a vote today.

Republicans are now most concerned with satiating deficit hawks. Two key events affected the bill’s trajectory on Thursday. First, a Joint Committee on Taxation analysis found that the Senate bill would increase the deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years even after factoring in economic growth. Second, the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled that a fiscal “trigger” — which would raise taxes automatically if growth indeed doesn’t offset deficits — was against Senate rules. The trigger was favored by a small group of deficit hawks led by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who now reportedly wants more revenue in the package.

Collins questioned the deficit analysis on Thursday. She’s open to a less dramatic corporate tax cut, but conservatives may not accept it. The Maine senator told Bloomberg in October that she didn’t want to back a bill that would “blow a hole” in the deficit. But she told Mic on Thursday that she thought the JCT’s economic growth projection was too low. She is still floating a set of four amendments to the package, including one that would retain a state and local tax exemption. The Senate proposal would lower the U.S. corporate tax from 35 percent to 20 percent, but Collins told reporters on Thursday that it should be 21 percent or 22 percent. That may be discussed to assuage Corker, but it may not set well with other conservatives.

King assailed the process after he failed to send the bill back to committee. In the afternoon, the Senate voted on an amendment from King, who caucuses with Democrats, to send the bill back to the Finance Committee with direction to report out a deficit-neutral bill. King told CNN afterward that some Republicans were inclined to back his amendment, which made for a longer-than-expected vote. All Republicans ended up opposing him and killing the amendment, but he argued that leaders should take a step back.

“Nobody’s seen the bill,” King said. “To call this a circus would be an insult to circuses.”

Lawmakers let 30 more bills into 2018 session

Legislative leaders continue to add to their workload for the 2nd session of the 128th Legislature, which begins in January. The ten members of the Legislative Council convened Thursday to decide on about 98 bills they previously rejected by for which the sponsors appealed the decisions. They let 30 bills through, including a bid to lower rising electrical costs, public health-related bills, and a “hire American” concept for publicly funded projects, versions of which have been debated in the Legislature for several years. Check out the full list of what survived and what did, along with how everyone on the council voted, by clicking here.

But there will be a lot more work to do in 2018. The bills approved Thursday are in addition to agency requests, hundreds of bills that were carried over and several dozen after-deadline requests that were already approved by the Legislative Council in October.

Reading list

  • More than 34,000 Mainers have paid tax penalties for not having health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The IRS says those penalties amounted to nearly $15.5 million in 2015, which is the most recent year for which data is available. Those numbers equate to about 5.25 percent of all tax filers in Maine. Nationally, 4.5 percent of all tax filers paid the penalty in 2015.
  • State officials still have no clue who made a $3 million dent in an overpass in Augusta. The damage to a ramp that passes over Interstate 95 occurred in September and has necessitated a cumbersome detour likely to last for months as crews work to make the roadway safe again. No one has come forward to claim responsibility for hitting the overpass, and the absence of video gives Department of Transportation and law enforcement investigators little to work with as they try to track down the culprit. Meanwhile, the $3 million to pay for the fix will come from the state’s highway fund.
  • Gov. Paul LePage asked President Donald Trump to help Maine pay windstorm cleanup costs. The governor sent his formal request for a federal disaster declaration to the president on Thursday. In it, he wrote that Maine sustained at least $4.7 million in public infrastructure damage caused by heavy wind, rain, surf that toppled trees, closed roads and snapped roughly 1,400 utility poles.
  • Amtrak service could soon be headed to Rockland. The New England Passenger Rail Authority says it will extend its Downeaster service to Rockland as a pilot program over the next month to see whether it’s viable. The authority is considering a seasonal weekend service that would include stops in Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle and Rockland. The northernmost stop for the Downeaster is currently Brunswick.

RIP, Pvt. Pyle

Jim Nabors, the comic television actor who played affable, klutzy, dimwitted Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C” during the 1960s, died Thursday at age 87.

Gomer was a lovable character but his simpleton schtick was often cited — along with Bob Denver’s island castaway Gilligan and Max Baer’s Jethro Bodine of “The Beverly Hillbillies” — as proof that network television was bent on rotting Americans’ brains by offering characters for viewers with the mentality of 3-year-olds.

One could argue that they were Twitter stars born 50 years before their time. But that’s a 140-character rant for another day.

Nabors’ good ol’ boy routine could be grating — he drove my father out of the room whenever his shows came on — but he had a secret weapon. His voice could make a drill sergeant purr.

Thanks, for the laughs and the beautiful music, Pvt. Pyle. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.