These Mainers Aren’t Ready To Give Up on Flipping Susan Collins’ Tax Vote

A conversation with Mike Tipping of the Maine People’s Alliance.

Sarah Jaffe December 7, 2017

Protesters target the office of Susan Collins in Bangor, Maine on December 4, 2017. (Sarah Bigney)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. We’re now sev­er­al months into the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, and activists have scored some impor­tant vic­to­ries in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many peo­ple, the ques­tion of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with orga­niz­ers, agi­ta­tors and edu­ca­tors, not only about how to resist, but how to build a bet­ter world.

She may not be as ideological as Ted Cruz, but she is a hardcore Republican.

Mike Tip­ping: My name is Mike Tip­ping, and I’m com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for the Maine Peo­ple’s Alliance.

Sarah Jaffe: Yes­ter­day was Mon­day, the first week­day since the Repub­li­can Sen­ate passed the tax bill. Tell us what went on in Maine yes­ter­day after your Sen­a­tor vot­ed for the tax cuts.

Mike: As you may remem­ber, Susan Collins, upon return­ing to Maine after vot­ing against the Repub­li­can health­care repeal, got applaud­ed at the air­port. There were sev­er­al scenes of peo­ple on the street thank­ing her for her vote. After her tax vote, she did not have the same reac­tion in Maine. She stayed in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and did the Sun­day shows, but in Maine peo­ple were protest­ing up and down the state — and they are con­tin­u­ing to do so all this week.

Yes­ter­day in Ban­gor, dozens of peo­ple were out­side her office. Five very brave souls went inside and refused to leave until she talked to them about her vote. She did not, and they got arrest­ed and cart­ed out in a police van. So things are def­i­nite­ly esca­lat­ing here. I think peo­ple believe that she’s not lis­ten­ing to them, that she’s doing real dam­age to the state, that she’s been lying about her votes and about the pol­i­cy and that they’re not going to take it anymore.

Sarah: She was one of the three votes that stopped the repeal of the Afford­able Care Act, and she’s known for being some­what of an inde­pen­dent Repub­li­can. Talk about the process of watch­ing her go through this and decide to vote yes for the tax cuts.

Mike: I think one thing to remem­ber about Susan Collins is that she has been mod­er­ate on many issues. But the sec­ond part of the for­mu­la­tion, the Repub­li­can part, is almost more impor­tant. She may not be as ide­o­log­i­cal as Ted Cruz, but she is a hard­core Repub­li­can. She cares about the par­ty, she cares about her lead­er­ship, she does­n’t want to offend her col­leagues. If she can find a way to vote for some­thing, if it’s pro­ce­dur­al tricks or being able to claim she got some kind of deal or some­thing, she will do it to advance their interests.

On this bill it was an inter­est­ing process. She sat down with Pres­i­dent Trump and appar­ent­ly got some promis­es out of him, and is appar­ent­ly the only per­son in the world that who promis­es from Pres­i­dent Trump. She was told she would get some health­care bills that do a bit of work around the edges, that she would get some tax cuts changed in some slight ways, and it looks like not even that is going to hap­pen. But even if she did get those things, they are fig leaves for an awful bill that dra­mat­i­cal­ly increas­es inequal­i­ty, that blows a hole in the deficit, that will lead to deep health­care cuts and cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

Maine is the old­est state in the coun­try. We have 300,000 peo­ple who rely on Medicare, and it is an incred­i­bly dam­ag­ing vote for her constituents.

Sarah: Talk a lit­tle more about Maine in par­tic­u­lar, what this bill would do to Maine.

Mike: Well, Maine is not the home of a lot of giant multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions and rich CEOs. We have a lot of peo­ple who work in tra­di­tion­al indus­tries on the ocean or in the for­est, and there are a ton of peo­ple that work or run small busi­ness­es. This bill tar­gets seniors and small busi­ness­es and rur­al areas: It is a bill designed to harm peo­ple in Maine.

That’s why there’s been so much protest and such a feel­ing of betray­al from Susan Collins, who has claimed to speak on these kinds of things. Just a few weeks ago, she said she would not vote for the health­care bill because it made some of the same cuts. Just a few months ago, she said she would nev­er vote for a bill with­out a full Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office score and hear­ings and every­thing else. Then she goes and votes for a bill that has hand­writ­ten scrib­bles in the mar­gins and things crossed out. She betrayed a lot of the things that she claimed to stand for and which she real­ly built her rep­u­ta­tion as a com­mon­sense mod­er­ate around — those are out the window.

Sarah: And we already have Mar­co Rubio say­ing that this is the path to cut­ting Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare, which is cer­tain­ly impor­tant to the old­est state in the country.

Mike: He real­ly let the cat out of the bag here: You’re sup­posed to wait until it pass­es to start talk­ing about how they’re going to use it to cut Social Security.

Along those lines, Collins also went on the Sun­day shows and said that this won’t actu­al­ly increase the deficit, that growth will out­pace that. She even cit­ed some econ­o­mists, appar­ent­ly the only econ­o­mists she could find who said any­thing like that — and now they’ve walked that back.

Before this hap­pened, Susan Collins was cho­sen as co-chair of No Labels, which is that cen­trist deficit hawk group. Their whole thing is say­ing that the deficit is already so large that they have to go after peo­ple’s health­care and go after Social Secu­ri­ty. Now she’s vot­ed to explode it fur­ther and real­ly dam­age those things she claims to care about.

Sarah: Chuck Schumer and oth­ers are hand­wring­ing about deficits when this bill is going to cause actu­al harm. I can’t imag­ine that that is the most com­pelling argu­ment to the peo­ple you work with on the ground in Maine.

Mike: I think peo­ple under­stand what it means is cuts to Medicare and Social Secu­ri­ty, and they’re def­i­nite­ly wor­ried about that. Collins is the one who made Pres­i­dent Oba­ma scale back the stim­u­lus pack­age dur­ing the Great Reces­sion. That’s actu­al­ly one of the more inter­est­ing things in her career. She did­n’t have an ide­o­log­i­cal basis for the num­ber that she want­ed for the stim­u­lus, she just chose a num­ber almost exact­ly in the mid­dle of what the Repub­li­cans want­ed and what Pres­i­dent Oba­ma want­ed and said this is where I stand.

She is a cen­trist but not a mod­er­ate in many ways. And what that did, peo­ple have point­ed out, it made the stim­u­lus less effec­tive: A lot more of it was in tax cuts, some of that to the wealthy, than it prob­a­bly should have been. It delayed the recov­ery, it allowed Repub­li­cans to cam­paign on a bad econ­o­my, it got a lot more of them elect­ed. And it turns out all of that was a ter­ri­ble farce because she does­n’t actu­al­ly care about the deficit any­way here.

Sarah: That is the most per­fect descrip­tion of cen­trism I’ve ever heard actu­al­ly. So what do you think the odds are of get­ting her to flip on this final bill, what­ev­er it is that comes out of conference?

Mike: Well I think we’re already see­ing some move­ment. She has tried to defend her vote. I don’t know if she’ll change it enough before the next vote, which obvi­ous­ly could come lat­er this week.

But I think she’s def­i­nite­ly feel­ing the pres­sure. Protests were front-page head­lines today, and peo­ple got arrest­ed. Her staff was appar­ent­ly hav­ing a heat­ed con­ver­sa­tion with the police, try­ing not to make this a visu­al thing. She was very con­cerned about that mod­er­ate image that she has tried to project. I think that is at risk here. If peo­ple con­tin­ue to speak out, I think there could be a chance at stop­ping her final vote.

Sarah: And so what are the plans for the rest of the week?

Mike: There are protests sched­uled in Port­land and in Kit­tery, and there’s more lat­er in the week in Orland and in Lewis­ton, and more in Ban­gor. Peo­ple are doing things all over. There are a ton of Indi­vis­i­ble groups that are doing things inde­pen­dent­ly all the time — try­ing to find Sen­a­tor Collins to talk to her about this, to flood her phone lines.

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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