New York Times' Columnist Profiles Senator Susan Collins: “A Senator Listens to Voters’ Quiet Desperation”

“[Senator Collins’] message of conciliation on health care rings true back home in Maine, if not in Washington”

Click HERE to read Elizabeth Williamson’s “Editorial Observer” column

Click HERE to read more about the health care panel on which Senator Collins participated in Lewiston

“A Senator Listens to Voters’ Quiet Desperation”
By: Elizabeth Williamson

“LEWISTON, Maine — President Trump’s name did not come up once as Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, met with patients, physicians, and the people running Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

“Stretch Tuemmler, a man with cancer struggling to pay for health insurance, made it clear to Senator Collins that Mr. Trump’s latest lie or outrage wasn’t what troubled him most. ‘I’m scared,’ he said. ‘I’m scared for myself, I’m scared for my country, for the 24 million people who could lose health coverage and for people who aren’t covered at all. I really like the idea of reaching across the aisle and making things work. I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but I hope you can do it — I have my sixth operation coming up.’

“For the two weeks of spring recess, voters from Bangor to Bakersfield have been giving members of Congress an earful about what the chaos and do-nothing rancor of Trump-era Washington is costing them. But Senator Collins was not greeted with the rage that some Republican representatives have faced down, or run from.

“Despite its economic problems, Maine’s congressional delegation has maintained a stern sense of bipartisan pragmatism appropriate for a state evenly split politically, with a no-nonsense culture that’s weathered longtime economic problems.

“That’s why Ms. Collins, bless her heart, spent the run-up to her recess trying and failing to broker a deal to keep Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, from blowing up the filibuster, one of the last remaining vestiges of Senate comity, when Democrats threatened to block the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. It is why Mainers like Christine Guinness of Blue Hill, angry about Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood, call Ms. Collins ‘reasonable,’ after the senator wrote her to say she has ‘consistently opposed the elimination of all federal funding for Planned Parenthood,’ and acknowledged that Obamacare ‘has brought some important improvements to our health insurance system.’

“And it is why, in Lewiston, Ms. Collins was working to promote the Cassidy-Collins Patient Freedom Act of 2017, written with Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican and physician from Louisiana. Ms. Collins’s plan would keep much of the most popular elements of the Affordable Care Act — allowing parents’ plans to cover children up to age 26, covering those with pre-existing conditions, as well as preserving mental health and substance abuse benefits important to combating the drug epidemic, which has claimed scores of lives in the state. Instead of the ‘individual mandate’ that financially penalizes people who don’t get insurance, Senator Collins’s plan would auto-enroll uninsured people but let them opt out. That, Ms. Collins told the group, would help stabilize insurance pools by enrolling more young, healthy people.

“Her audience listened silently.

“‘Regardless of who was elected president, it was clear we were going to have to work on A.C.A.,’ she said. ‘New York magazine said I was the second Republican senator to come out against the House bill’ that would have thrown 24 million people off their insurance plans over the next decade. Her plan, she said, is ‘a starting point.’

“Mr. Tuemmler had another story, of a friend who had spent $20,000 on deductibles in the few months after being found to have brain cancer. ‘That’s not affordable health care,’ he said.

“Ms. Collins tried again. ‘This is not a Republican problem. This is not a Democratic problem. It’s an American problem. We need to come together. I had hoped that once the House bill failed, it would pave the way to bipartisan working groups.’

“Mr. Trump later made clear he had another approach in mind, threatening to force Democrats to come to terms not with a call to conscience about the plights of people like Mr. Tuemmler, but by cutting the insurance subsidies to seven million low-income people.

“‘We have to stop talking past each other,’ Ms. Collins told the crowd, as someone said ‘yeah.’

“Her message wasn’t meant for her audience. It has not been the people in Maine who have talked past each other. The problem is a president who promised that ‘the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer’ and has quickly forgotten that promise, like so many others.

“For Mr. Tuemmler, waiting for Mr. Trump to start listening is a luxury that, like his insurance, he can’t afford.”

Click HERE to read Elizabeth Williamson’s column online.