GOP tax bill could prompt fights over abortion, Maine tax changes

Good morning from Augusta. The tax bill from congressional Republicans is waiting for President Donald Trump’s signature after it was finally passed on Wednesday, but negotiations around a related spending bill will stretch into January.

The bill could prompt two Maine-related fights in Congress and the Legislature: Conservatives want anti-abortion language in a health care change pushed by Sen. Susan Collins and a Republican gubernatorial candidate wants to conform Maine’s tax code to the new package.

House Republicans are posturing as if they could sink a key Collins change if anti-abortion language is included. Collins, a moderate Republican, had a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, to offset the tax bill’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that individuals have health coverage with two other bills to be inserted into a spending bill by year’s end. She said Wednesday that those changes will be considered in January. One of those bills would restart subsidies helping lower-income people buy coverage. But dozens of anti-abortion groups want to ensure that those funds don’t subsidize plans covering abortion and The Hill reported on Tuesday that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has vowed that it won’t pass his chamber without that language.

That likely wouldn’t sink any deal from Collins’ perspective, but Democrats need to endorse a spending bill if one is going to pass. Collins is a rare pro-abortion rights Republican, but her spokeswoman, Annie Clark, noted Thursday that the senator has “long supported” the Hyde Amendment, which for decades has barred federal funds from covering abortion in most cases. But any spending package would need 60 votes to pass the Senate and The Hill quoted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, as saying that Hyde language would “kill it altogether.” 

Maine legislators may now feel pressure to pass tax conformity, but both parties will try to extract victories if past battles are prologue. Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, announced Wednesday that a bill he has introduced to be considered in 2018 would conform state-level earned income and child credits to the new federal credits. The Republican gubernatorial candidate said in a statement that the Legislature should consider conformity “sooner rather than later.” Tax conformity was a major fight in the Legislature in 2016, but a deal was only hammered out after Democrats extracted $15 million in education funding. This year’s bill will be similarly subject to negotiations.

A group looking at health care for all in Maine convened Wednesday

The Task Force on Health Care Coverage for All of Maine was created by the Legislature during deliberations this year over a bill that would have created universal health care, including dental, vision and hearing care. That bill died in committee but the effort continues. The task force, comprised of lawmakers from both parties and a range of health care and insurance industry officials, is working on recommendations for the 129th Legislature, which convenes in January of 2019. There’s little chance universal health care will happen in Maine but it’s possible the group will produce some actionable recommendations — depending on who the next governor is and how legislative election go in 2018.

Maine won $144,000 in a class-action lawsuit

All 50 states were part of a $13.5 million settlement against Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. for off-label marketing and deceptive practices related to four prescription drugs: Micardis, Aggrenox, Atrovent and Combivent. Maine’s share of the settlement will be used for consumer protection measures, according to Attorney General Janet Mills.

Reading list

  • A new report says elder financial abuse in Maine tallied more than $28 million between 2010 and 2016. The report by Legal Services for the Elderly and Maine’s Office of Aging and Disability Services represents the first time such abuse has been quantified. Senior citizen advocates estimate that the actual losses were even higher — $74 million — when unreported cases are taken into account.
  • Bath Iron Works says it’s entering 2018 with fair winds and following seas. BIW President Dirk Lesko told employees Wednesday that improvements in safety, quality, schedule and costs mean the company has “turned a corner” this year. BIW is preparing to compete for a multiyear contract for 20 Navy frigates and more of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers it already builds.
  • Mainers affected by the October windstorm will have until Dec. 31 to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Many of the 500,000 power outages resulting from the storm stretched into November, leading the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to allow affected Mainers to apply for health coverage in the marketplace by year’s end.
  • The U.S. life expectancy has dropped for the second straight year and it’s because of drug overdoses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that the death rate from overdoses rose 21 percent in 2016 — that’s more than 63,600 people — is responsible for the slight dip in life expectancy for men to 78.6 years old. Women’s life expectancy hasn’t changed, at 81.1 years.

Come all ye bunch of bookworms

Christmas tree retailer Treetopia has tracked online purchases by holiday shoppers since 2012 and has found Mainers to be buying more books for Christmas presents than any other state except for Vermont.

The Kindle computer tablet made a brief appearance to the top of Maine’s list in 2015 — that happens to be the year my son’s Nana bought one for him — but books came back in 2016.

That Mainers apparently love their printed material gives the Daily Brief team hope that just maybe, you’ll consider other printed materials this year, such as maybe a newspaper subscription? That’d be an unexpected Christmas miracle. Here’s your soundtrack.

Have a merry Christmas, if that’s your thing. The eggnog-soaked Daily Brief team will return to duty on Tuesday. — Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd. 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.