Friday, July 31, 2009

Collins Right On Clunkers

Sen. Collins was apparently right from the start that the "cash for clunkers" bill was not as narrowly-tailored as it should have been.

The junior senator's version, with tighter standards, would have been better for the environment. And given the level of demand, it seems pretty clear that Collins' greener version of the bill would have had the same stimulative effect.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Part of the Solution

Sen. Collins is certainly capable of playing a constructive role in the health care debate, as this article suggests.

If the House does go ahead and adopt her proposal, maybe it will help Collins feel more personally invested in the success of reform.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Questions for Collins On Health Reform

--Does Sen. Collins support raising taxes on the super-rich to pay for expanded coverage?

--Would she vote to block an up-or-down vote on a bill that created a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers?

--Does she support taxing employer-based health care benefits if that's what it takes to pay for reform?

--Does she support MedPac reform?

--Does she support increased use of comparative effectiveness research within Medicare?

--Will Sen. Collins or her staff take calls from Jane Alonso on the subject of health care reform?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Answer

Well, it took a newspaper based 300 miles south of Maine to extract even a kernel of information from Sen. Collins about her perspective on the substance of health care reform:

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, worries about requiring employers to provide insurance to workers. Without categorically rejecting the idea, she said: "My inclination is to oppose an employer mandate. Employers want to provide health insurance and do so if they can afford it."


Ms. Collins...said she had several big concerns about the House health care bill and a separate measure approved last week on a party-line vote by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

She said that she was "very skeptical" of the new government health insurance plan that Democrats want to create.
Helpful, if hazy. And of course, a slew of questions about the junior senator's views remain unanswered.

(Will anyone ask them?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BDN: Reform Needed Now

Bangor Daily News seems constitutionally incapable of crossing Sen. Collins or Sen. Snowe. But if you read between the lines, this editorial comes off as a dig at both senators.

Flashback: Higher Taxes For The Rich

Before the election:

I do believe that wealthier Americans can and should pay higher tax rates, and I have voted in support of higher tax brackets for these taxpayers that have an ample ability to pay a higher top rate.
Something to keep in mind over the next several weeks.

Collins: Yes On Sotomayor

I'm actually a bit surprised it took so long.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Rally: Another View

Here's some raw video from Saturday's rally in Portland for fast action on health care reform:

The footage conveys the size of the crowd in a way that the slanted NECN report never manages to.

Disingenuousness Watch

As we all know, Sen. Collins and her lackeys in the Maine media want Congress to slow down on health care reform.

This eight months after the junior senator told voters during her recent campaign that, "I actually think [Obama's] plan is pretty good."

Of course, no one remembers Collins playing for more time during the debate over President Bush's unaffordable tax cuts for the rich--which had a much higher ten-year price tag than the health care legislation currently on the table.

But the idea seems to be that health care reform is so tricky--and so important--that the decades spent refining proposals, the two years spent testing the public's appetite for reform during the presidential campaign and the months spent cobbling together legislative language in six different congressional committees aren't enough.

Apparently there's lots more heavy lifting to do--so much more that an up-or-down vote on a bill shouldn't happen any time soon.

So with such urgent work left to be done, how did the junior senator spend the weekend? Holed up in her office, determined to find a way to lower the cost of reform? Stuck in sweltering Washington D.C., crafting amendments to strengthen the legislation in ways that will improve health care for all Americans?

In a word, no. Instead, she spent Friday evening in Presque Isle at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Look: There's nothing wrong with politicians cutting ribbons. And Collins can certainly talk and chew gum at the same time.

But the junior senator would have more credibility on the issue, and seem less disingenuous, if she'd had more to say lately about the substance of health care reform. And her request for a delay would seem more like a good-faith move if her schedule was crammed full of health care-related activities.

Instead, Collins has been harping on process--her trademark approach to initiatives she opposes but wants her constituents to think she supports.

Delay, then water down, then scuttle. Unfortunately, that seems to be the formula.

Of course, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

(Not Even) Equal Time

Hundreds of people rally for health care reform. Three dozen rally in opposition.

So which side gets more play in NECN's report?

Let's see: Counter-demonstrator Terren Bragdon gets the first word--for 16 seconds. He speaks up close, directly to a reporter. And then the shot cuts away to a tightly-edited montage of anti-reform placards while his commentary continues.

Then we get a mere 12 second chunk of Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree's pro-reform speech from the podium. And then the anchor wraps things up.

Not exactly proportional representation.

Of course, the report characterizes reform legislation as, "government-run public-option health care reform." That tells you pretty much all you need to know about what NECN is up to here.

UPDATE: The PPH report puts the number of reform supporters at "about 500" and opponents at "about 25."

That's twenty-to-one.

Friday, July 17, 2009

On the Outs?

When Sen. Snowe went to talk health care reform with President Obama yesterday, the White House paired her with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). Both are fence-sitters who are seen as potential--and perhaps crucial--"yes" votes on reform legislation.

Sen. Collins, on the other hand, was invited to see the President as part of a group rounded out by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). All three are reform critics whose votes really don't figure into the success or failure of the legislation.

So has the junior senator's stock gone down inside the White House? (Remember, Collins had the benefit of a one-on-one meeting with the President during the stimulus debate.)

Are Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to blame?

Or has the White House simply concluded, based on Collins' record, that the junior senator is likely to be an obstacle to meaningful health care reform?

UPDATE: Or maybe someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue remembers what happened the last time they listened to Collins.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Still Hiding Behind Process

Sen. Collins ventured to the White House today to talk health care:

Obama met at the White House with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"I urged him not to rush consideration of the bill," Collins told reporters later. "This bill is going to affect virtually every American. If the president tries to rush this through in the next two weeks...I fear the process will be very divisive."
Fair enough. But more important: What does the junior senator think about the content of the plans moving through Congress? Could she support the House bill? The legislation emerging from the Senate committees?

Are there popular ideas that she considers off the table? Reform features that she can't live without?

Or does she believe--as one might infer from her near-silence on the substance of health care policy coupled with her persistent calls for a go-slow approach--that the most important thing about health care reform is the timing?

Friday, July 10, 2009

On the Same Page

Just days after Sen. Collins added former PPH editor Jeannine Guttman to her staff, we learn that another aide has left the fold:

Jane Alonso has joined Monument Policy Group as vice president of government relations. Alonso is a former legislative director for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and also oversaw Sen. Collins’s work as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Alonso, who was on Collins' staff as recently as January, is still listed in that role on her own LinkedIn page.

Monument Policy Group is, of course, a lobbying shop. The company counts General Dynamics and PhRMA, the pharmaceutical trade group, among its clients.

You'll remember that PhRMA intervened aggressively on behalf of Collins in the junior senator's recent fight for reelection.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Federal Building

Credit where it's due: On Saturday, BDN ran a nuanced, carefully-reported piece about a puzzling allocation of stimulus money.

It seems that $53 million is slated for renovations of a federal building in Bangor that houses (among other things) offices for Sen. Collins--and soon Sen. Snowe. The building was built for $4.5 million in 1966.

"Our roads are crumbling all around, and we're painting a federal building. It doesn't make sense," said Thomas Davis, chairman of the Penobscot County commissioners. "I can think of a bunch of things that are more deserving of this kind of money. As a taxpayer, I'm sick of money being thrown away. I don't mind spending, but this is overboard."
Neither Collins nor Snowe seems ready to criticize the project. It's hard to believe it would have been approved without input from their offices.

Of course, there may be compelling reasons for its selection: Federal control of the site may mean fewer opportunities for delays and corruption; the project may take less time to complete--and thus have more stimulative effect--than other public projects in the region; the building, which has never had a major upgrade, may be in truly dire shape.

Still, it seems a shame for so much money to go to a use that will benefit relatively few people--especially at a time when broad swaths of the population are hurting.

Nothing in the article corroborates Davis' view that money is being thrown away. But to local citizens--and officials trying to fill budget gaps--I can understand why it might feel that way.