Tuesday, May 20, 2008


It's still too early to know all the ins and outs of the Collins camp's strategy for the fall. But one of their key assumptions would appear to be that Mainers can't count.

Consider Sen. Collins' response to questions from Bangor Daily News about paying off the national debt:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that if the full Congress approves the effort she has pushed in the Senate Armed Services Committee to require the Iraqi government to pay for a greater share of the costs of the war, it will be a significant savings.

"This will save billions of dollars as we shift costs," she said. "They are seeing a huge windfall as oil prices have soared, and they should pay more of the costs."

But, Collins said, that is only part of the solution. She said the Farm Bill, which passed last week over her objections, includes "billions" in subsidies to farmers, in some cases, to not grow food.

"We cannot continue these subsidies that are causing food shortages," she said. "It just does not make any sense."
So, let's review how Collins intends to close the gap.

As the article mentions, the debt currently stands at $9.2 trillion.

The "effort" on Iraq funding Collins cites amounts to blocking future reconstruction dollars and making the Iraqis pay for their own equipment and training. I haven't seen anyone attach a number to this plan, but let's be optimistic and put the savings at $10 billion.

The farm bill subsidies which she mentions are a clearer case: They'll cost $43 billion over five years.

So, add Collins' proposals together and we're talking about $53 billion in savings. Remember, the national debt is more than $9 trillion. Anyone else see what's going on here?

In short, the junior senator hasn't even scratched the surface of the problem.

(Can you imagine what would happen if--at a meeting with a loan officer--you boasted about your great progress in paying off your $10,000 debt by pointing to the $58 you'd been able to scrape together?)

What's more, Collins voted for the Iraq war--which is on the way to costing well over $1 trillion; she's consistently voted to fund that war to the tune of $12 billion per month; and consistently voted against a mandated withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Collins voted for each of President Bush's fiscally reckless tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, at a total cost of well over $1 trillion.

In sum, after voting for policies that will add more than $2 trillion in debt, the junior senator wants to undo the damage by slashing a minuscule fraction of that amount, even as she supports policies that send the debt ever higher.

To call the junior senator's answer to the debt question "ridiculous" doesn't get anywhere near conveying the magnitude of its absurdity.

Of course, this is where a vigorous press enters the equation--where careful, well-researched reporting is vitally necessary to keeping readers informed. But the BDN just slaps the Collins quotes down on the page and leaves it at that. No follow-up questions, no context--nothing.

Lazy, drive-by reporting isn't a problem exclusive to BDN, or to Maine--far from it. But it's especially dangerous--and irresponsible--in the context of a senate race where one candidate is depending on voters buying into an image that has stunningly little to do with her record.

UPDATE: Portland Press Herald gets in on the act with a mathematically-challenged editorial praising Sen. Collins for voting against the Farm Bill.

Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of the legislation. But PPH characterizes it as nearly pure pork, even as it lauds the bill's food aid and conservation provisions.

Here's the thing: Those provisions make up 78 percent of the bill. So it's just plain wrong to assert that, "the real beneficiaries [of the bill] are not Maine residents," given that one in eight Mainers is on food stamps.

Simply put, once you do the math--and realize that Collins' vote against $43 billion in farm subsidies meant opposing five times as much in food aid--PPH's entire argument falls apart.

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