Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Euphemism Watch


A Wednesday rally in Portland asked Maine's two U.S. senators to help pass the jobs bill that remains stuck in the Senate.
The bill isn't "stuck." It faces a Republican filibuster. Supported by Maine's two sainted senators.

It seems to me that--at an absolute minimum--the Maine press has an obligation to inform the state's citizens that Sen. Snowe and Sen. Collins are blocking an up-or-down vote on extending unemployment benefits.

It not a difficult to explain. Unless you're trying hard not to.

Quote of the Day

Tim Fernholz:

At the end of the day, this will have little affect on the mechanics of the financial regulation bill, but it is a loss for good policy. Brown has demonstrated his ability to squeeze the legislative process for what he can get--he's a Bay State [Sen.] Ben Nelson [D-NE] now--but I wonder if his constituents will reward him for what he got: Loopholes for bank-operated hedge funds and the elimination of a bank tax.
But at least Sen. Brown's constituents know about it. Unlike some other states, Massachusetts still has media outlets that operate on the archaic principle that holding elected officials accountable is part of their job.

It's Not A Game

How many teachers will lose their jobs so that Sen. Collins can remind us all how important she is?

Perpetual Bailout

As we all know, Sen. Collins is super serious about deficits and debt. She's so serious about them that she's drawn the line at unemployment benefits.

Of course, her passion for balanced budgets flags when the interests of Wall Street banks are at stake.

Somewhere, Jeannine Guttman is smiling.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Still Not Clear

We still haven't been able to sort out whether Sen. Collins was behind the financial reform bill provision that explicitly blocks the federal government from regulating equity indexed annuities and the scam artists who push them on the elderly.

We do know that such a provision made its way into the bill currently before Congress.

And we know that Collins championed a proposal that would exempt variable annuity dealers from the fiduciary standards that would apply to other industry professionals.

What's unclear (at least to me) is whether these two proposals are one and the same. Or an earlier and later version of the same idea.

This article from last week seems to suggest that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) was behind the language that actually made it into the bill. But the discussion there isn't exactly exhaustive.

And in the context of a law meant to strengthen the government's ability to rein in financial shenanigans, it's striking how little public discussion there's been about this regressive, anti-consumer provision.

We'll continue poking around. Meanwhile, if anyone has the inside scoop, please do drop us a line.

Quote of the Day

Felix Salmon:

It would be a fiasco of tragic proportions if the banks managed to remove these taxes from the final bill, essentially absolving themselves from cleaning up after their own mess.

Monday, June 28, 2010

More Good Faith Negotiating

After inserting a regulatory carve out into the financial reform bill, Sen. Collins is now talking about bolting:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) joined Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) this evening, putting herself back into the undecided column on Wall Street reform legislation, after House and Senate negotiators added new fees on banks to the final bill late last week.


If both she and Brown oppose financial reform over bank fees, it could stall or even kill the legislation.
My guess is that she's angling, on behalf of her corporate patrons, for a favor somewhere down the road. (Or maybe she'd just like another dinner with someone important.)

But it's certainly possible that she'll pull the plug on the whole thing. I, for one, wouldn't be shocked.

And after the junior senator's "work" on the stimulus, health care and the various unemployment benefits packages, no one in the White House or in the Senate should be surprised either.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sneaking It In

I could be wrong. But based on this, I'm pretty sure Sen. Collins is the author of the financial "reform" provision discussed here:

Equity indexed annuities...are complex financial products that promise a minimum return on your investment. But they often require you to tie up your money for long periods of time and charge hefty surrender fees if you need to pull out your money early. Unscrupulous salesmen, who collect lucrative commissions, have used deceptive marketing techniques to sell these products to senior citizens, which is why sales of these annuities have been the subject of many lawsuits.

But a provision in the legislation will prevent the S.E.C. from regulating them, a step backward, consumer advocates and the commission have argued, from what is now the case. The S.E.C. had adopted a rule to regulate these annuities as securities, but it had not yet been enacted. Now, the annuities would be treated as insurance products, which means they would be overseen by state insurance regulators.

"That means no securities antifraud authority, no rules against excessive compensation, and no securities regulators to help police the market for these abuses," [director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America Barbara] Roper said.
With negotiations now complete, this provision is virtually certain to become law.

So in about 24 hours, Sen. Collins has voted to kill unemployment benefits and jeopardize Medicaid, and succeeded in protecting scam artists who rip off the elderly. That's quite an achievement.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Penny Wise

Sen. Susan Collins, who helped push through $2 trillion in deficit-generating tax cuts during the Bush administration, voted today to kill an unemployment benefits package that would have added $33 billion to the deficit--or about 1.7% of $2 trillion--on the grounds that the bill was "too expensive."


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Deficit Attention Disorder

When the bill came due on tax cuts for billionaires and sweetheart military contracts, Sen. Collins was more than happy to let the next generation pick up the tab.

But when the subject turns to Medicaid and unemployment benefits for average Americans, suddenly the junior senator is quick to draw a line in the sand.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants the Senate to pass the worker benefits, aid to states and tax breaks to spur job creation before the House takes up the Medicare fix. But House leaders are coming under heavy pressure from physician groups and AARP, however, after the Senate passed a fully offset 'doc fix' last week."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also quickly wants to pass the extenders bill that includes aid to states for Medicaid spending, unemployment benefits and tax breaks. "For now, he and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus are trying win over Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins by making additional cuts to the bill's cost." (Emphasis mine.)
It's a good thing there aren't any unemployed Mainers, and that no one in the state relies on Medicaid.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lashof: Science Not With Collins

On the heels of her vote in favor of the Murkowski resolution, Sen. Collins will be at the White House tomorrow to talk about climate change.

Last night, I followed up with National Resources Defense Council climate scientist Dan Lashof, who recently rebutted Collins' thin and narrow public argument for stripping the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

I asked him about his confidence in the science behind his conclusions. Here's some of what he said:

I am not aware of any scientific support for the claim that all emissions from biomass should be considered carbon neutral and thus exempt from any consideration for regulation by EPA.

In fact, since I posted my blog a new scientific study commissioned by the State of Massachusetts was published... [See here.]
Of course, Lashof forgets that Collins is a moderate bipartisan centrist. Which, I'm pretty sure, gives her license to make up her own science.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ah, The Memories

Remember the anti-union astroturf groups that worked so hard to support Sen. Collins' reelection in 2008?

On Friday, the New York Times had a long profile of Richard Berman, the man at the center of a couple of them.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Out To Lunch

We've been off the beat for the last few days. But Gerald at Dirigo Blue has been keeping a close eye on the junior senator.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NRDC: Collins Wrong on Biomass

From Dr. Dan Lashof, a Harvard and Berkeley trained climate scientist:

Senator Collins of Maine made a particular point of complaining about the way EPA plans to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from biomass combustion. Her talking points echoed very closely a letter to EPA dated May 24th, from Weyerhaeuser CEO Daniel Fulton...

Weyerhaeuser's claim that biomass combustion is always carbon neutral is patently false. While combustion of biomass from certain sources is carbon neutral, using biomass from others can add as much or more carbon to the atmosphere as burning fossil fuels. For example, waste biomass from a sustainably managed timber plantation can be carbon neutral, whereas timber obtained from clearing a mature forest for development can have higher net emissions than coal combustion.

EPA fully recognizes that biomass combustion should not be treated identically to fossil fuel combustion...and has indicated in its response to Mr. Fulton's letter that it will seek public input, including from stakeholders such as Weyerhaeuser, before providing guidance on how emissions from biomass should be treated in regulations...

Senator Collins has cosponsored a bill to require reductions in carbon pollution and indicated today that she wants to work across the aisle to advance a bill. I welcome her involvement and hope that she will follow the science, not the timber industry’s false claims, when it comes time to debate how biomass emissions should be handled in that legislation.
Imagine: Lots of facts, no coddling whatsoever.

Take note, LCV.

Collins Has Chutzpah

Thankfully, someone gets it. Here's Daniel Weiss, formerly of the Sierra Club:

The U.S. Senate is a body with many senators who are not always ideologically consistent. Nonetheless, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) set a new standard for "Senatorial Chutzpah" today by announcing her support for Senator Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) big oil bail out bill...

Sen. Collins announced her support for the big oil bail out bill after the paper industry urged her to support it because of its impact on biomass--an important industry in Maine. Yet EPA will focus its efforts on the largest pollution sources--those that emit more than 75,000 tons of global warming pollution per year. The only requirement for biomass is that it has to measure its pollution emissions.

In 2008, the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Senator Collins for reelection. At the time, she said:
Maine's future depends on clean air, clean water, and clean energy, and I will continue to work with LCV and forward thinking leaders from both parties to ensure a cleaner future for us all...
Yet today she joins every Republican and only a couple of Democrats to support the big oil bail out bill that maintains status quo energy policies that Senator Collins says that she wants to change. This is hardly "forward thinking" or working across party lines.
Still waiting to hear back from the LCV national office and the Maine LCV. The silence is telling.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greenwashing Susan Collins

Radio silence so far from the national League of Conservation Voters, the Maine arm of the LCV and the League of Women Voters about Sen. Collins' vote in favor of the Murkowski resolution. Not exactly speaking truth to power.

On Twitter, MLCV calls the resolution the, "Dirty Air Act." But no reference to the fact that both of the state's senators voted for it. And no attempt to hold them accountable for supporting such a repellent piece of legislation.

I've made two inquiries to find out why MLCV has stayed quiet. Still waiting for a response.

I have had a fruitful back and forth with Bill Burtis at Clean Air-Cool planet. You'll remember that just a month ago, Adam Markham, the organization's president and CEO had this to say about the junior senator:

Maine's Susan Collins is showing strong leadership in the US Senate. Leading--not following political lines, bucking the tide of special interests, doing what’s right for her constituents as a matter of conscience--takes courage, understanding and patience.

Collins' stance on climate issues in Congress shows exactly that.
Talk about unfortunate timing.

I gave Burtis a chance to walk back that characterization, but he's not biting. In fact, he seems loath to venture a single unkind word about Collins.

He did seem to concede that he would've preferred Collins to have voted the other way on the resolution. But his position is that Collins can coherently back both the Murkowski resolution and climate change legislation. Her vote on the former doesn't necessarily undermine her support for the latter.

That's true as far as it goes. And Clean Air-Cool Planet can (arguably) be given a pass since it doesn't have a presence in Maine. But Burtis is leaving out one key thing--context. And the history here isn't flattering.

Sure, you can be in favor of balancing budgets while also backing tax cuts; for exiting Iraq while voting against deadlines for withdrawal; for health care reform while voting against a specific plan; for pandemic flu preparedness funding while stripping it from a particular bill; for the Cheney energy bill while supporting green energy.

The problem with Susan Collins is the pattern: After wringing her hands and complaining about the choice she faces, Collins virtually always sides with Republicans on the big issues.

At a certain point, you have to wonder about the rhetoric. We've been wondering about it for years.

Connecting the dots isn't hard--unless you're desperately trying not to. It's time "environmental" groups opened their eyes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Quote of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins:

While I support wiretapping terrorism suspects, I have reservations about the sweeping approach the NSA is pursuing. I also have serious concerns about unelected government officials at the NSA taking on this complicated issue instead of Congress. It is Congress that should establish the framework for wiretapping American citizens.
Sorry, I think I muffed a few words.

Collins wasn't talking about lawbreaking at the NSA. Of course not. After all, would she ever really complain about the military or intelligence apparatus engaging in illegal activity or overstepping its authority?

No, she was talking about the EPA's legal, logical and evidence-based decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

My mistake.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mischievous and Destructive


...a mischievous and potentially destructive resolution by Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican...seeks to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s formal determination in 2009 that the buildup of greenhouse gases threatens public health and welfare.

That finding is the basis of E.P.A.’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide from vehicles and other sources. It is also one of the main underpinnings of the historic agreement in April to tighten fuel economy standards for the first time in more than 30 years. Repudiating the finding would cripple the E.P.A.’s ability to enforce that agreement as well as its authority to require stronger standards in the future. This is precisely the wrong thing to do in a country that needs to reduce its dependency on oil.

Ms. Murkowski’s proposal is objectionable for many other reasons. It would repudiate years of work by America’s most reputable scientists and public health experts. It would prevent the E.P.A. from regulating greenhouse gases from sources like refineries and power plants in the future. And it would send a discouraging message to a federal agency that appears to take its regulatory duties seriously, unlike the Minerals Management Service, which failed to police the oil industry.
I've made inquiries with LCV, Clean Air Cool-Planet and the League of Women Voters. Curious to hear what they have to say.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Collins 'Yea' on Murkowski Resolution

Award-winning environmentalist and eco group darling Sen. Susan Collins votes to strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Maybe the environmental groups just didn't give her enough awards.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Articles of Faith

We all know Sen. Susan Collins is serious about climate change. The League of Conservation Voters thinks so. And so does Clean Air-Cool Planet.

Heck, the venerable League of Women Voters is so sure of it that they gave her an award.

Except, y'know, it just isn't true.

Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate will take up a controversial measure that would restrict the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to control the release of greenhouse gases by cars and industry. Maine's two moderate Republican senators are considered swing votes on Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski's resolution. Both Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have been critical of EPA rules and won't say how they will vote, which is unsettling to environmental groups and state officials.


A sticking point for Collins...[is] the way EPA intends to regulate emissions from burning biomass...

The forest products industry maintains that biomass users should be exempted from EPA rules. They consider biomass combustion carbon-neutral because it releases carbon dioxide into the air, offsetting the CO2 trees sucked in during their growth.

Collins appears to be on the same page. In a statement she says, "While I support regulating greenhouse gas emissions, I have reservations about the sweeping approach EPA is pursuing. For example, for the first time the EPA has classified biomass as not carbon neutral, which could have a negative impact on Maine's forest products industry."

But Maine Environmental Commissioner David Littell says it's one thing to call biomass harvested from sustainable forests carbon-neutral. But he says not all biomass is the same. "We can't accept the proposition that trees that are harvested and cut down for permanent development, that never are going to grow back again, is sustainable and carbon-neutral. Obviously those trees are never going to regrow."

Composite Character

The Hill conflates Maine's junior and senior senators, treating them as a single person. On purpose.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You Mean Lobbying Works?

So much for standing up to the bankers:

In the face of opposition from bankers, U.S. Senator Susan Collins has agreed to ratchet back a proposal that would prevent banks from using so-called trust- preferred securities to appear better capitalized.

Diluting the measure would be a setback for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The FDIC helped craft the language before Collins inserted it in the Senate’s financial-overhaul bill last month, according to a person close to the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity, and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair publicly endorsed the amendment in a May 7 letter to Collins.


Since last month, lobbyists for the ICBA, a Washington- based trade group representing about 5,000 smaller lenders, have met with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank...They’ve also met with staff for Collins...

"Senator Collins will support modifications to address concerns of community banks regarding trust-preferred securities they have issued," Collins' spokesman Kevin Kelley said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
How much do you suppose that was worth in 2014 campaign donations?

Collins and Climate Change

Is Sen. Collins really planning to vote to strip the EPA of its authority to make climate change-related regulations?

I'd be surprised. But--given the junior senator's mediocre environmental record--I wouldn't be shocked.