Susan Collins, along with Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana, is introducing an Obamacare alternative. This is important. Pay attention. We still have no clue what Trump's executive order means, and neither does Trump, but Collins really matters.
Let's recap. Republicans have 52 seats. In order to pass any kind of repeal (full repeal with the nuclear option, or partial repeal with budget reconciliation), they can only lose 2 votes, leaving Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote. More than two Senators, including Collins, have said they won't vote for any kind of repeal if there isn't a replacement at the same time.
I expect to write a lot about Collins. She is in the same basic position as Senators Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, and sort of Joe Lieberman in 2009 and 2010 during the original passage. Why do I say "sort of" for Lieberman? Because while Nelson and Landrieu were actual moderates from actual Republican states (Nebraska and Louisiana respectively), it was never clear that Lieberman had any actual policy goals (he flip-flopped on reducing the age of eligibility for Medicare to 55, possibly because he found out Anthony Weiner liked the idea). Nelson and Landrieu had serious reservations about expanding the welfare state on policy grounds, and worried about their own reelection prospects. They were the strategic actors.
There will be a lot to say about Nelson, Landrieu, and their relationship to Collins. But there is somebody else relevant to our story here too. Senator Collins wants the entire Republican Party to cater to her. That works if and only if they decide that it is the Collins-Cassidy bill versus Obamacare. Game this out. Collins says to the party that if the replacement is anything too far from her bill, she, Cassidy, Murkowski and whoever else she can get will vote against the replace, and hence against the repeal. Everybody is stuck with Obamacare. Otherwise, everybody agrees to Collins-Cassidy. They do a partial repeal of Obamacare through budget reconciliation, then pass Collins-Cassidy through reconciliation. The hardliners don't get everything they want, but policy does move to the right.
This only works if Collins can credibly say that she would accept the Obamacare status quo rather than whatever the hardliners will cook up.
And the one Republican in the Senate who can really make that threat credible is Susan Collins, thanks to her retired voting twin, Olympia Snowe.
During the debate over Obamacare in 2009 and 2010, one Republican in the Senate voted for one version of the bill at one stage. Olympia Snowe. The passage of legislation is generally a tangled mess, and with Obamacare, it was even more tangled than usual. Multiple committees considered multiple versions. The version that eventually became law was basically the version that passed through the Senate Finance Committee, and was reported out of committee with one vote from a Republican on that committee.
Her name was Olympia Snowe. She eventually voted no on final passage, but there was that one "yes" vote...
The relationship between Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins was a bizarre one until Snowe retired. The two Senators from Maine nearly always voted together, and on our NOMINATE scale, measuring ideology on a -1 to +1 scale, you could basically calibrate it to zero with their voting habits. Now, there's the not-old-but-aging line from Stephen Colbert that a moderate is just someone who doesn't have the balls to be an extremist, and that's got some politics here, but the point here is that if Snowe could conceive of voting yes on Obamacare, then Collins can credibly threaten to accept the current status quo if replacements are too far to the right of her, as most of her Senate colleagues are.
Now, Snowe is gone, replaced by Angus King, who is a definite no vote anyway. Collins is the one to watch.
This is not a sure thing, folks. Collins has a pretty good threat here, which I suppose means I can post this...