Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Martell: Collins' 9/11 Act Issues Addressed

I talked a little while ago with President of the Professional Firefighters of Maine John Martell, who was on the phone from Washington. His organization endorsed Sen. Collins in 2008.

Martell made a passionate, pointed case for the Zadroga Act, describing first responders who lost their lives on 9/11 as the "first killed in action" in our nation's ensuing military battles. And after mentioning his own military background, he called 9/11 responders and those who worked the pile afterward "domestic veterans" who deserve "nothing less" than what is owed to battlefield soldiers.

He said he "feels very strongly that" Sen. Gillibrand has addressed Sen. Collins' insistence on appropriate offsets. And while he declined to single out Maine's junior senator for criticism, he drew attention to the different budgetary standards being used by some to assess the Zadroga bill and the recently-enacted, deficit-ballooning tax cut package.

"If we can't take care of the people who took care of us," he said--some of whom are "dying"--then it would be a "harmful, almost shameful statement about who we are as a nation."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quote of the Day


Perhaps the regular media will ask the two senators why they voted against a bill that would provide a path to citizenship to young adults whose only crime is that their parents brought them here illegally when they were young children.

I'd ask them, but they don't talk to me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Asking, Telling

It took months of wrangling and several false starts. And throughout the process, the junior senator often operated with something short of good faith.

But at the end of the day, Sen. Collins deserves a lot of credit for helping shepherd "don't ask, don't tell" repeal through the Senate.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Short Memories

As Gerald at Dirigo Blue notes, Sen. Collins continues to block the 9/11 health bill.

Literally days after voting for $900 billion in red ink-generating tax cuts skewed to the rich, Collins objects to the bill because--wait for it--the $7 billion package isn't paid for.

Got that? Huge tax cuts for the rich? No problem.

But health care for the first responders who got sick from toxic dust spewing out of burning buildings on 9/11? A bill that will grow the deficit less than one percent of what the tax cuts cost? Not so fast.

Sick and twisted. But no longer surprising.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Collins and Firefighters

Right at the beginning:

I wonder how those guys feel about Sen. Collins' decision to be the deciding vote against the Zadroga Act.

No, really, I wonder.

Rhetorical Commitments

Weren't firefighters big supporters of Sen. Collins in 2008?

First responders from across the country came to New York after Sept. 11, 2001, and there are very few who can understand how the country is about to let the 9/11 health bill die in the Senate.

Among the dumbfounded count Maine’s Capt. Mike Clark, of the Bath Fire Department, who is calling on his two senators, Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to rescue the faltering bill.


Clark, a former Long Islander, doesn’t really see how, with all the money the nation is spending on the wars sparked after 9/11, it can't find the cash to fund the $7.4 billion James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, to care to for the first responders.


Senate Republicans voted against moving the Zadroga bill forward last week, saying they want to pass tax cuts for the wealthy first. But with the tax deal all but certain to pass, none have come forward to move ahead with Zadroga--and the clock is running out. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has said he'd back the bill. Just one more Republican is needed to pass it.

Collins and Snowe’s offices did not respond to requests for comment.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Credit, But How Much?

Sen. Collins deserves credit for backing repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" last week.

And while her behavior during "negotiations" inspired serious skepticism, making it clear that she was approaching the process with something short of good faith, the circumstantial evidence suggests that, in the end, the junior senator was genuinely interested in bringing about repeal.

That willingness to do the right thing is to be commended.

But let's not get carried away.

Hoping off the fence to support an extremely popular, morally necessary policy that's in the national interest and the interest of national security after its defeat was already certain isn't exactly a triumph of virtue--or even a demonstration of sincerity. A "declaration of conscience" moment it wasn't.

The better analogy is to a person who, after years of indifference toward--or even mild scorn for--her local baseball team, starts rooting for the home franchise once the team makes it to the World Series. And then goes around telling everyone what a huge fan she is.

So let's keep the junior senator's actions here in perspective. I understand the eagerness of the Maine and national press to encourage this kind of constructive behavior. But encouragement is one thing; rewriting history to cast Susan Collins as some sort of champion of repeal is quite another.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fence Sitting

I'd be remiss not to point out, as Gerald and TPM have, that Sen. Collins voted for repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" only after it was already certain to fail.

Dodge: Snowe Playing Politics

A quick, blunt statement from Andrew Ian Dodge of the Maine Tea Party Patriots:

I think Snowe's vote on DADT is completely electoral politics.

Flashback: HRC On Snowe On DADT

From September 20:

Back in May, just after the defense authorization bill passed out of committee, I e-mailed David Smith, who is in charge of policy and strategy at Human Rights Campaign.

I asked him whether Sen. Snowe would go along with a repeal of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.'

Here's his reply, in full:"She will support repeal."

Didn't See That Coming

Collins votes to advance repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and it still fails. (Sen. Snowe voted "no.")

UPDATE: Greg Sargent has the gruesome details:

Reid concluded that even if Collins was sincere in her promise to vote for repeal if given the four days of debate, there was no way to prevent the proceedings from taking longer, the aide says. Reid decided that the cloture vote, the 30 hours of required post-cloture debate, and procedural tricks mounted by conservative Senators who adamantly oppose repeal would have dragged the process on far longer.

"It would have been much more than four days," the aide says. "Her suggestions were flat out unworkable given how the Senate really operates. You can talk about four days until the cows come home. That has very little meaning for Coburn and DeMint and others who have become very skilled at grinding this place to a halt."


The aide rejected the claim that Reid should have extended the session another week in order to accommodate GOP procedural demands, as Joe Lieberman and others had asked, arguing that extended debate would actually have dragged the session into January, what with other things on the Senate to-do list.

"Why do we need to extend the session?" the aide asked. "Republicans have blocked this bill since February. We've made offer after offer to try to reach agreement on this. Going through those procedural motions along with the START treaty and tax cuts would have taken us until January 5th."
I'm as big a critic of the junior senator as anyone, and I think her behavior on this issue has been repugnant and indefensible.

Still, on first blush Reid's excuse--at least the version of it articulated here--rings hollow.

That said, it's worth drawing attention to the fact that even though Collins voted for the bill, her procedural complaints seem to be what killed it. That's difficult to understand, but worth sorting out in the hours and days ahead.

Is It All Moot?

It's hard to separate the facts from the posturing here--on both sides--but Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is now saying, effectively, that Sen. Collins is asking for a process on "don't ask, don't tell" that's doomed, by its very nature, to fail:

"If we don't proceed with this bill, this week, then involving cloture sometime next week, even if we could do it would be a symbolic victory and I don't believe there would be enough time to hammer out a final bill before the end of the session," Levin said.
Remember, not only does the military authorization bill have to win Senate approval; both houses then need to reconcile their versions of the authorization. And that simply can't be accomplished instantaneously.

Now, is Levin taking into account the possibility that Democrats could extend the session a few days? It's not clear.

But it's certainly true that there's little time left. And that the junior senator is demanding a proportionally huge block of it be spent discussing a bill whose substance has been known for months.

Will She Or Won't She

One of the upshots of Sen. Collins' process-trumps-substance approach to Democratic priorities is that, by the time her bizarre behavior becomes a focus of national media attention--usually because hers is one of a handful of votes up for grabs--reporters are focused, quite rightly, on the legislative endgame: Will it pass? Won't it pass? Who will put it over the edge?

When an issue is coming to its head, that's what readers want to know.

So at that point in the process, there simply aren't many inches to spare or much air time available to delve into the junior senator's rationale for holding things up: What, specifically, does Collins think she'll have accomplished if her procedural objections win out? What, for example, does the length of the debate have to do with the fairness of the process? And why is it necessary for some bills to navigate a gauntlet while it's okay for others to be rammed through.

These are all obvious, vital questions. But they're the kinds of questions that need to be asked by the local media in the weeks leading up to a vote--or they won't be asked at all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

So Where Are We?

My take, at the end of a long day:

Between the lines, Collins seems to be telling Reid that she'll vote for repeal as long as the process ties up the Senate long enough to kill some other Democratic priorities.

In other words, she'll allow it to limp across the finish line--but only if she's allowed to put the hurt on Democrats at the same time.

Not exactly "bad faith" negotiating, necessarily. But certainly not "good faith" either.

And that's assuming she isn't simply dithering, which of course can't be ruled out.

Did Collins Just Blink?

I'm not convinced. But it's a plausible reading of the situation given the junior senator's comments just a little while ago. Here's David Kurtz of TPM:

On its face, her demands can probably be met by Harry Reid without too much sweat. That's probably why Reid has now put off tonight's vote.

Now, you could argue that Reid just caved by putting off the vote, but I think that's the wrong read on this.

Collins has finally made her demands concrete and public. And they are not outrageous. At one point she wanted or was said to want two weeks of debate. Now she's asking for a manageable 4 days. Would we have gotten here anyway? Maybe. Did Reid's forcing the issue make the difference? Hard to say for sure, but probably.
Not exactly a profile in courage. But promising--at least potentially.

UPDATE: Politico reminds us why this is far from a done deal:

As the day wore on, Reid seemed to have struck a deal with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and perhaps other Republicans who favor ending “don’t ask” over the number of amendments that should be allowed to the defense bill and was inching towards an agreement on the time for debate.

However, Collins said she and Reid remained in stark disagreement over when to take up the bill, with Collins still insisting upon waiting until the Senate acts on a tax-cut extension deal the White House reached with Republican leaders.

Gibberish Watch


Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told me that she is fine with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) offer of 15 amendments--10 for Republicans and 5 for Democrats. The only question is the time allotted to debate them...She'd be fine if Reid were to allow, say, two hours of debate (one hour for Democrats and one hour for Republicans) for each amendment.

Collins told me that the time issue is important to her because she is "trying to make sure the rights of the minority are protected."
Got that? So 120 minutes per amendment--not 60 minutes, not 90 minutes--is the magic dividing line between respect for the minority and abuse of process.

Yes, it looks increasingly like the junior senator is looking for a way to avoid voting for a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

What Gives?

It's now clear that Sen. Collins is holding out for a military authorization debate and amendments process that's in line with recent historical averages.

Why this imperative trumps everything else is unclear.

In any event, the junior senator's office says that over the last five years, an average of 14.4 amendments have been offered. But Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is now on board for a process that includes fifteen amendments--ten of them from Republicans. So what's the problem?

Is Collins really holding out simply for a longer debate on the bill...on the grounds that longer is, in and of itself, better?

There's no obvious way to make her position make sense.

On The Ground

I just got off the phone with a "don't ask, don't tell" repeal activist, working on the grassroots effort in Maine. (He wasn't authorized, by his organization, to speak for attribution.) A few quick impressions:

--The landscape, as he described it, seems fluid and uncertain. He seemed not to have any idea how Sens. Collins and Snowe will ultimately vote.

--He noted that there's, "a lot of politics on the table." And he didn't rule out the possibility that the junior senator was using repeal as a pawn in a larger political game relating to tax cuts, etc.

--He was skeptical of the idea that Congress would stay in session longer to get repeal done. He didn't use the words "now or never" but that's the impression that came through.

--He said that throughout the afternoon, he and his colleagues will continue to connect with Mainers, urging them to make phone calls and write e-mails to both senators.

DADT Roundup


Maine's junior Senator, the Republican Susan Collins, has the power to end the military's ban on openly gay soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen today--or the ability to crush the hopes of those hoping to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell this year, according to a Democratic leadership aide. It's her choice, says the Senate Democratic aide, who has direct knowledge of the talks leading up to today's planned cloture vote on the defense spending bill that contains the repeal language. [Emphasis mine.]
Greg Sargent:
A spokesman for Collins flatly denies she asked Reid for unlimited debate. Rather, the spokesman says, Collins has pointed out to Reid that the average number of days spent debating previous defense authorization bills has been 11 days, with an average of 14 or so amendments considered. Collins has asked Reid to come up with a comparable offer, the spokesman says.
Keeping things as murky as possible, as usual.

Unicorns For Christmas

A must-read from Steve Benen (via ASFried):

At this point, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, who claims to support repeal, appears to be the senator who stands in the way of success. On Friday, Collins had a lengthy meeting with Reid and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), trying to resolve her concerns and clear the way for passage. They didn't reach an agreement.

This was soon followed by President Obama reaching out to Collins directly over the weekend, urging her to do the right thing. They didn't reach an agreement, either. This led to additional talks between Reid and Collins this morning.

In a nutshell, Collins is asking Democratic leaders for unlimited debate on the defense bill. Reid, in turn, is offering Collins a compromise: votes on 10 separate amendments*, seven of which would come from Republicans, three of which would come from Democrats.

Collins has responded that this isn't good enough, and she'll refuse to let the Senate vote up or down on the legislation.

It's worth emphasizing that Collins just isn't being reasonable. Looking back over the last couple of decades, a total of 10 amendments is entirely routine for this defense authorization bill, and is actually far more than the number of amendments considered most of the time.

Why not just give in and tell Collins she can have unlimited debate? Because Republicans really are desperate to kill the legislation, and the most far-right members will keep offering unrelated amendments indefinitely, running out the clock on the lame-duck session, and derailing the bill.

The aide told me, Collins is "basically asking for a unicorn for Christmas. We can't give her a unicorn."

So, is that it? Will Collins screw over gay servicemembers and blow off Pentagon requests over baseless procedural demands? That appears pretty likely.


But it's not quite over. Reid, my source told me, is "still trying," and Lieberman, who's been "tireless" on this issue, continues to urge Collins to do the right thing.

One wonders how many voters in Maine who care about this issue might be willing to pick up the phone between now and tonight.

* Update: Still hoping to persuade Collins, Dems are now offering 15 amendments, 10 of which could come from Republicans.

Questions of the Day

--Will any Maine reporter ask Sen. Collins whether she will insist on the same extended debate and amendments process for tax cuts that she has demanded for "don't ask, don't tell"? And if not, why not?

--Will any Maine reporter ask Sens. Collins and Snowe how they square their professed determination to cut the deficit with their support for a huge, deficit-generating tax cut package?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pretexts, Reliability, Etc.

Greg Sargent on "don't ask, don't tell":

Right now, the outstanding question is whether Reid will schedule enough time for floor debate and amendments to remove Senator Susan Collins' final pretext for saying she'll vote No on cloture for the Defense Authorization Bill containing repeal. Collins has signaled she will support repeal if that time is allotted.

It remains unclear precisely how much time Collins will deem sufficient. But presumably Senate Dem leaders can ask Collins privately how much floor debate time she needs. And if her reply is not too unreasonable, they can give it to her...

Dems will quite rightly protest that Collins has not always proven the most reliable of negotiating partners. They will argue that even if the Dem leadership does give Collins what she wants, she could pull the football away again. So why bother?

I'm very sympathetic to this argument. But ultimately, this comes down to a choice: Do we want there to be some chance that repeal passes this year, or no chance at all?

As unreliable as Collins has been in the past, it's not unreasonable to assume that this is one issue where she does want to vote Yes...

My worry is that Dem leaders think that if they schedule just a few days of floor debate, and Collins balks, they'll be able to blame her unreasonableness for the failure of DADT repeal. If they do that, they will have a plausible case. The only problem will be that DADT will remain in place.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Making It Plain

Give her credit for getting rid of any ambiguity:

Democrats hoping to move forward with legislation other than tax cuts shouldn't look to centrist Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to break the logjam.

Collins said again on Friday that, while she would vote with Democrats to end the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, she wouldn't do so until a debate over tax cuts has been resolved.


The statement is a sign that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (Ky.) Republican conference hasn't fractured in its insistence that the expiring tax cuts be dealt with prior to action on any other legislative business.

Metzler Pulls A Fast One

Check this out, from Rebekah Metzler:

Collins was the only Republican committee member to support repealing ["don't ask don't tell"] when it was first considered by the committee.


Maine's Republican senators have been targeted by groups pushing for repeal. Maine veterans and the Maine Civil Liberties Union staged a press conference Thursday in Portland to press them to support repeal; pop star Lady Gaga also made a trip to Maine in September before a scheduled Senate vote on the issue.

That vote failed, but another vote on the policy--which is included as an amendment in the defense budget authorization legislation--could come during Congress' lame-duck session.
Notice anything fishy?

Let's see. First, we learn that Collins voted to repeal the policy in committee. And later on, we're told that the "vote failed" before the full Senate.

Seems straightforward enough, I guess. And yet, I feel like something's missing. Hmm...

Oh, right: It's that Collins actually voted against repeal when the bill was before the full senate.

Not exactly a minor detail.

And yet Metzler's passive voice construction seems like it's being used, specifically, to conceal the fact. It feels like the product of a deliberate effort to supply readers with a false impression: That Collins has been a supporter of repeal--full stop.

Otherwise, why the peculiar "vote failed" construction? It's vague and it's strained.

So there you have it: A reporter misleading her readers and running interference for a politician.

This is journalism?

MPBN Plays Along

This is just bad journalism. Josie Huang at MPBN seems to know about the letter Sen. Collins signed vowing to block all legislation until the richest Americans get a tax cut. Heck, MPBN wrote about it yesterday.

And yet, in a long story on "don't ask don't tell" Huang manages to sidestep the implications of the letter almost entirely.

But those implications, and the questions they raise, are obvious:

Given the realities of the congressional calendar--and the fact that repeal supporters won't have the votes to pass repeal once January rolls around--how does Collins reconcile the vow to block all bills with her professed "support" for repeal?

Since this "support" is contingent on events not in her control--the Democratic majority caving to Republicans on tax cuts--wouldn't her position more accurately be described as "opposed for the time being" or "potentially supportive" of repeal?

Any serious effort to convey the state of play on the issue would include a discussion of these points. Yet instead of zeroing in on them Huang glosses over them: She mentions the tax cut letter without so much as acknowledging that the junior senator's name is on it.

By taking this opaque approach, Huang helps Collins send Mainers a message about her priorities that pretty much contradicts the one she's sending to her Senate colleagues and the beltway conservative establishment.

Instead of holding Collins accountable and drawing attention to her doublespeak, Huang allows herself to function as part of the junior senator's PR team.

Not pretty.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Low Information

Unless I'm missing something, not a single Maine paper has a story today about the promise from Sens. Snowe and Collins to block virtually all new legislative work until they've secured new tax breaks for the richest people in the country.

It's a position so extreme that it might lead even someone who doesn't follow politics to conclude that Maine's senators aren't the pragmatic, non-ideological centrists they portray themselves as.

But to reach that conclusion, you'd need to actually know what they're up to.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

EQME: Collins Has Chosen Rancor

Betsy Smith, Executive Director of EqualityMaine, via e-mail, on the decision of Sens. Snowe and Collins to hold the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" hostage until they're able to push through a tax cut for the tiny fraction of Americans with incomes of more than $250,000 per year:

It is particularly distressing to myself and our members across the state of Maine that both Senators Collins and Snowe have chosen a path of partisan rancor instead of reflecting Maine values of independent spirit for the common good...They have committed to voting for repeal of this grossly unfair policy in the past. It's time for them to live up to that commitment and for Mainers to remind them of it with their phone calls, letters and emails.
It's worth reiterating that the junior senator has backtracked over the course of the day--or at least tried to leave the impression that she's done so.

But the letter Collins signed says what it says.

Collins: Tax Cuts Trump All

Gerald catches Sens. Snowe and Collins committing to block all new legislation not related to spending until billionaires get tax cuts.

And that isn't hyperbole. It's their position:

We write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate's attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.
That means no "don't ask don't tell" repeal. It means no vote on New Start.

Of course, the tax "hike" is on the books. Collins voted for the law that put it in place.

But fresh tax breaks for the wealthy (to the tune of several hundred billion dollars) are now so crucial--so important to the future of the country--that the junior senator will simply sit on her hands until they're enacted.

Now that's moderate bipartisan centrism!

UPDATE: Just kidding? A Collins spokesman tells Greg Sargent that contrary to the text of the letter above, the junior senator could in fact support repeal of "don't ask don't tell" without tax cuts.

This is exactly the kind of (deliberate?) incoherence I referenced yesterday.