U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine took to the Senate floor late Monday afternoon in praise of the $1.4 trillion GOP tax plan.
“I rise to express my support for the conference agreement on the Tax Cuts and Job Act, the first major overhaul of our tax code since 1986,” she said.
Collins listed in detail the significant benefits she expects for working Mainers, now that changes have been made to correct problems she had with the measure early on. Among them, letting people deduct state and local income, sales and property taxes up to $10,000.
Collins echoed the belief of other supporters that the combined changes will create jobs in Maine in part by dramatically slashing the corporate tax rate.
“Isn’t that what we seek? Isn’t that was tax reform should bring about? More jobs right here in America,” she says.
Collins has been one of the last GOP holdouts on the Senate side, and today’s speech makes it all the more likely that the plan will be approved this week.
Meanwhile, she continues to be pressured from all sides. But she is unlikely to be influenced by it.
At Collins’ Lewiston offices Monday morning, Rabbi Erica Asch was among a group of citizens gathered together around one cause.
“I’m joining with other clergy members, other people of faith, to urge Sen. Collins to vote no on this immoral and unjust tax bill,” she says.
Asch says she and others in the group, including representatives from Unitarian and Buddhist communities, feel called to speak out.
“As I look more and more at the details of the plan, I see that it’s really a way to give more to those in our society who have so much and to punish or penalize those who are struggling to feed themselves and feed their families,” she says.
Later in the day, other protesters gathered at Collins’ downtown Bangor offices, where organizer Nathalie Arruda of Orland disputed the suggestion that the demonstrations are predicable responses by progressive activists.
“We are her constituents — I am Sen. Collins’ constituent,” she says. “I am not a paid liberal agitator. I live in Orland and I drove a half hour through the snow in order to get here and stand out here in the snow, and I was here last week, and I will continue to be out here.”
But other forces are praising Collins’ support for the GOP plan. A collection of small-business owners, as well as the Maine Chamber of Commerce and Maine Auto Dealers Association, issued a statement of support for the tax plan.
Speaking for the coalition of groups, Kathy Summers-Grice, president of Eaton River Strategies, helped organize a letter campaign for the tax overhaul that she says will create jobs and give the economy a boost.
“The tax reform measure that is before Congress can be a real driver in both our economy here in Maine and across the country,” she says. “We reached out both to people in the small-business community and associations that represent small business, and they were more than happy to sign onto a letter thanking her for her vote and encouraging her to vote again this week in favor of the tax reform.”
TV ads have also been running, like one from the National Taxpayers Union, a conservative tax advocacy group.
“Sen. Susan Collins’ family has run one of Maine’s great small businesses for more than 170 years,” the narrator says. “She understands our economy and Maine families are counting on her leadership on taxes. Urge Sen. Collins: Pass tax reform to help Maine families today.”
Ads have also been running urging Collins to vote no.
As the vote looms, she has been a target for political pressure from both sides, particularly given the narrow margin Republicans hold in the senate.
But UMaine political science professor Mark Brewer doubts that any of the protesting or advertisements will be all that effective.
“If you’re going to measure effectiveness by getting a public official or a legislator to change their vote, that doesn’t seem to be going to happen here,” he says.
Brewer says that Collins’ vote on the Senate tax bill that emerged last month will likely serve as give a strong clue as to how she will vote this week.
“There’s nothing that we’ve seen so far since these protests have started that would indicate that Susan Collins is going to waver in any way from her original vote,” he says. “I mean she keeps saying, ‘I want to wait until I see the final version,’ ‘Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ but I haven’t seen anything that would lead you to believe at all that when that vote comes, whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday or whenever, that she’s going to do anything different on that conference report than she did on the original Senate bill.”
Still, that likely won’t deter activists from making their case to Collins, and to her core supporters, right up until she casts her final vote on the Senate floor.