Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Politico: Collins Killed DISCLOSE Act?

That seems to be where this is headed:

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine may have delivered a fatal blow to the bill Monday, announcing that she would not support cloture, which would break a filibuster.

Cornell du Houx on DISCLOSE Act

Via bluemir at Dirigo Blue, here's state Rep. Alex Cornell du Houx on the DISCLOSE Act. (Published before Sen. Collins admitted that she'll help block the law from an up-or-down vote)

We can't know exactly how corporations will use their new [post-Citizens United] influence in the 2010 elections. But we can make sure that their campaign expenditures are as limited, and as transparent, as possible...

The DISCLOSE Act would close the loophole that allows foreign-controlled domestic subsidiaries to participate in American elections, and make sure that government contractors and recipients of TARP funds couldn't curry favor by buying campaign ads.

It would establish new rules to prevent outside spenders from coordinating their campaign activities with candidates and political parties. And it would also impose strict transparency requirements-all corporate and labor union expenditures for or against a candidate would need to be reported promptly and clearly, and a company’s CEO would have to appear in all of its political ads, much like candidates must "approve the message" of ads funded by their campaigns.

The DISCLOSE Act isn’t perfect, but what it does is simple and important: It takes a harmful Supreme Court decision and ensures that it can do as little damage as possible in a quickly approaching election.

It is now up to the Senate to pass DISCLOSE in time for voters to have the information we need as we go to the polls in November...Big business lobbyists, who embraced the Citizens United decision and plan to spend millions on the 2010 elections, have been ratcheting up their efforts to defeat DISCLOSE, and have gotten most of the Republican caucus on board.

When the Senate votes on DISCLOSE this Tuesday, the votes of Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will be crucial to its passage.

Both have been strong supporters of transparency and accountability in the past, but rarely have the voices against honest government been so loud. They will hear plenty from the business lobby; now they need to hear from ordinary citizens.

Question of the Day

Why would an above-the-fray centrist vote to block even the consideration of a bill that restores just a subset of the rules that she's previously supported and even voted for?

CLC: Collins Not Accurate

From Meredith McGehee, policy director at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. (The organization's president happens to be a Republican.)

The bill introduced by Sen. Schumer and being voted on today is a fair, appropriate and critically needed...Claims that the measure favors unions over corporations are not accurate.

Without this bill, the American people will not have the information they need to know who is spending millions of dollars to affect the outcome of November's elections. Sen. Collins should support cloture and vote yes.
There's a name for someone who persists in "inaccurate" statements even after being made aware of her inaccuracies.

Collins Against DISCLOSE Act

The junior senator, who pretends to be a champion of clean and transparent elections, tells Fox News she'll vote against the bill meant to prevent anonymous special-interests from coming to dominate federal political campaigns.

Seems like a good time to reach out to the roughly one-third of Democrats who voted for the junior senator last time around: If you know anyone in that category, why not take a few minutes out of your day to update them about the great work Collins has been doing on their behalf?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Quote of the Day

Trevor Potter, former Republican FEC commissioner and Campaign Legal Center president:

"For years the opponents of campaign finance reform said all we needed was disclosure," said former Federal Election Commission chairman Trevor Potter, now president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, during a conference call with other DISCLOSE backers last week. "And now that that's all we're going to get, they don't want us to have that either."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Values Deficit

The Sun Journal seems to be the only Maine daily that's willing, now and then, to write about the state's senators as if they were mere mortals rather than sainted celebrities. Just saying.

Former Poland music teacher Lee Libby is one of many Maine teachers who lost their jobs this year due to budget cuts.

On Wednesday, she did something about it.

She went to Washington, D.C., and met with U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, urging her to vote for federal legislation that would give money to the states to help schools retain teachers, among other things.

The legislation is a $10 billion fund projected to save 138,000 education jobs, said Cynthia Kain of the National Education Association. Maine would receive $39 million from the proposal, which has support from President Barack Obama and has passed in the U.S. House, Kain said.


Collins...said Wednesday she would not support the new legislation.

"Sen. Collins does not support President Obama’s proposal to borrow and spend an additional $23 billion to send back to the states and local governments because it is not paid for and would add to the already enormous deficit," her office said in a prepared statement.


Libby, 50, taught at Poland Community School for 23 years. She was laid off when the Poland-Minot-Mechanic Falls school district had to cut $1 million from its $18.1 million budget...

At Poland Community School, students used to get music class once a week. This year, the school will have one elementary music teacher for three schools.
If only Maine teachers were launching security-sapping foreign wars, showering money on billionaires or hawking a battlefield vehicle--then Sen. Collins might find a way to get behind their agenda.

But they just do boring stuff like educating kids. So we obviously can't afford it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bluff Called

Now what?

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has filed a new version of a campaign-finance bill aimed at winning the support of Maine’s key GOP centrist senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

The new version strips out several provisions included in the House-passed bill that conservative groups, as well as Collins, had said provides an unfair advantage to unions over corporations and other groups. Democrats are courting Snowe and Collins and could bring the bill to the floor for a vote as early as next week.

The bill specifically jettisons a provision dealing with requirements that all businesses, unions and groups must disclose transfers to or from or between their affiliates of $10,000 or more, according to a Senate aide familiar with the changes.


Collins’s spokesman, Kevin Kelley, did not respond to a request for comment.
Coming up with a new bogus excuse will probably take a few hours. (Hypocrisy is hard work.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

Pressure to support campaign finance disclosure legislation continues to mount for Maine Republicans Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins...

Advocacy groups have been lobbying the two moderates in an attempt to get the 60 votes needed so the bill (S 3295) can clear procedural hurdles in the Senate. The White House-supported measure, known as the DISCLOSE Act, would expand reporting requirements for political spending in the wake of a recent Supreme Court decision that opened the door to corporate donations to campaigns.

Wednesday, the coalition of public interest groups wrote to Collins and Snowe and cited a poll showing 85 percent of Maine voters say it is important to know who paid for the political campaign communications that they see or hear.


Signers included the Maine Small Business Coalition, the Maine League of Women Voters; the Maine chapter of the League of Young Voters; Maine People’s Alliance; U.S. PIRG on behalf of its Maine members; the Maine Council of Churches; Maine Common Cause; and Engage Maine.
Interesting to see how this plays out.

Free Money

From Sen. Collins' eNewsletter:

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced her support for a bipartisan proposal to limit federal discretionary spending for Fiscal Year 2011.


"I have joined my Republican colleagues...in supporting...[t]his bipartisan proposal...because it essentially freezes...discretionary spending at last year's levels.
Seven paragraphs later:
Collins...announced that the [Appropriations] [C]ommittee has approved her request for $17.2 million for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. This funding is included in the Fiscal Year 2011 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill.
Ironic? Self-negating? Totally contradictory?

Not at all. The above ellipses hide the fact that the proposed spending freeze covers non-defense discretionary spending only.

Because when the government spends money on defense, it doesn't actually cost anything.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Helping Old Friends

Sen. Collins' old friend Karl Rove is benefiting from the junior senator's lack of urgency when it comes to the campaign finance-related DISCLOSE Act:

A new political operation conceived by Republican operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie formed a spinoff group last month that--thanks in part to its ability to promise donors anonymity--has brought in more money in its first month than the parent organization has raised since it started in March.

The new group, called American Crossroads GPS, has been telling donors their contributions would be used to dig up dirt on Congressional Democrats' "expense account abuses" and to frame the BP oil spill as "Obama's Katrina."

The GPS group pulled in $5.1 million in June, its first month in operation.
Mission accomplished?

The Collins Playbook

--1. Embrace progressive priorities. (E.g. health care reform, pro-environment policies, campaign funding transparency.)

--2. When Republicans are in power, lament (quietly and infrequently) the paucity of opportunities to advance these progressive goals. Then vote the Republican position down the line, even when it moves the country in the opposite direction.

--3. When Democrats are in power and bills advancing these priorities take shape, nitpick, distort and obfuscate.

Explain that you still support the goal in theory, but complain about a minor provision of the bill that even competent reporters won't want to take the time to examine. Be sure to suggest that the provision hurts "small business."

Feel free to echo false conservative interest group-sponsored talking points and generally misrepresent the position of legislation proponents.

--4. If the legislation remains popular with Mainers at this point, drop the discussion of substance and critique the process. Impute bad faith to the bill's advocates and accuse them of being partisan.

Complain that they've failed to accommodate unspecified Republican concerns. Suggest that the lawmaking process has been too secretive. Or, conversely, that there hasn't been sufficient behind-the-scenes work on the bill for it to be ready for debate out in the open.

--5. If, after all this, the legislation is still popular in Maine, argue that now just isn't the right time to pass it. Outline other, more pressing concerns. Suggest that the issue needs to be studied more. Call for the process to start again from scratch. (If necessary, flee the country.)

--6. If the legislation seems likely to pass despite all these efforts, do your best to water it down and undercut it. Use the debate as an opportunity to advance conservative memes and to attack the president.

--7. Finally, when it comes time to vote, consider the following: How important do Republican colleagues, corporate allies and potential donors consider the defeat of the bill? Will voting for the bill result in enhanced Capitol Hill power and prestige? Weigh these competing factors and come to a decision.

(Don't worry about the views of Mainers. The state's media outlets will do their best to keep voters in the dark.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


It's important to keep in mind that the discussion of Sen. Collins' disingenuousness and bad faith about campaign finance reform isn't academic. Collins is actually in a very good position to call the shots here.

Specifically: If Collins works to block the reform bill from coming to the floor, it's hard to see how it passes either now or anytime soon--since there will likely be more Republican senators in the next session of Congress.

By contrast, if Collins actually lives up to her rhetorical commitments to Maine voters and backs the bill, it has an excellent chance of becoming law.

The stakes really that clear; Collins can ratifying a system of corporate-dominated elections or she can reject it.

The choice--between advancing the cause of good government and being a loyal Republican partisan--couldn't be more stark.

Real and Fake Priorities

During her 2008 race, Sen. Collins often lamented the duration and expense of modern political campaigns. She bemoaned the influence of interest groups and third-party advertising. She even pledged to shun support from outside attack groups.

So, in the wake of the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision, which opened the door to a limitless flood of outside money in elections, it made sense that Collins would call for new reforms. As a spokesman told The Hill:

"As a co-sponsor of the 2002 campaign reform law, Sen. Collins was disappointed that the Supreme Court struck down so many key provisions of this bipartisan legislation," Kelley said.

"She believes that it is important that any future campaign finance laws include strong transparency provisions so the American public knows who is contributing to a candidate's campaign, as well as who is funding communications in support of or in opposition to a political candidate or issue."
Several months later, with legislation taking shape to do exactly that, one would expect the junior senator to be one of its most ardent supporters. Right?

Well, not exactly:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a leading proponent of greater campaign-finance restrictions in the past, is taking issue with a bill imposing transparency in political advertisements.


In a statement, Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said Collins believes the public has a right to know who is contributing to campaigns but has concerns that the [DISLOSE Act] gives an unfair political advantage to unions over corporations.


In addition, Collins's spokesman said the timing of the bill should not take precedent to more pressing economic matters.

"Rather than rushing to change complex campaign finance laws mid-cycle in a manner that clearly favors one political party, Congress should remain focused on addressing the economic crisis and high unemployment rate," Kelley said.
(Anyone else having flashbacks to the health care debate, when the junior senator thought the Obama plan was pretty good until it was time to actually go ahead and pass it? At which point she registered a series of hazy and unfounded complaints about the legislation, while also groaning about its timing? Ah, the memories.)

On the substance--the charge that the bill favors unions over corporations--here's David Vance, of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center, via e-mail:

One of the provisions that House Republicans criticized deals with strengthening the prohibition in current law on government contractors' efforts to influence the outcome of elections. They claimed that the provision did not include unions. That is both incorrect and an inaccurate comparison...

Nonetheless, we encourage Senator Collins to address her specific issues with the legislation with the sponsors. It is not a perfect piece of legislation as the sponsors will freely admit, but the alternative of turning a blind eye to a flood of corporate and union treasury funds--much of it anonymous--in the coming election would be disastrous.
Here's Trevor Potter, a former Republican FEC Commissioner, tackling the same criticism:
The bill requires funding disclosure for all election advertising--union and corporate.

In previous elections, unions and corporations spent millions of dollars on TV ads "paid for" by groups with patriotic-sounding names--leaving viewers with no idea of who was behind them. Under the DISCLOSE Act, these ads have to identify their actual funders.

That is the most important element of the bill--and it applies equally to unions and corporations.

The bill prohibits those with federal contracts larger than $7 million from spending treasury funds for independent expenditures and electioneering communications. The treatment is identical for unions and corporations.


Based on the legislative language's equality of treatment, claims of union favoritism seem to be unsupported efforts to discredit the bill and stave off its primary goal: disclosure of those underwriting the massive independent expenditure campaigns that are coming to dominate our elections. (Emphasis mine.)
In short, Susan Collins is up to her old tricks--putting conservative orthodoxy and Republican electoral strategy ahead of sound policy and the will of Maine voters.

Loyal Republican that she is, Collins knows that the new "anything goes" campaign finance reality is just fine with her corporate allies. And her Republican colleagues. And that denying President Obama another victory can only help GOP electoral prospects.

Which is why it's necessary for Collins to trot out the "it's not the right time" talking point. (Anyone remember Collins advancing that line of argument during the debate over any of the Bush administration's major initiatives?)

And in terms of the timing, as Vance notes, again via e-mail:

It was the U.S. Supreme Court that changed the rules mid-cycle and...8 in 10 Americans were outraged by that decision to allow unlimited corporate and union treasury funds into our elections.

That decision ignored precedent and a century's worth of law to curb corporate and union abuses of the democratic process dating back to the age of the Robber Barons and staggering corruption in Washington...This legislation will address those concerns. (Emphasis mine.)
An above-the-fray, non-ideological moderate with a strong commitment to clean elections would agree.

But Susan Collins simply isn't that legislator--if she ever was. And she hasn't been for a long, long time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Maine Media Secrets

Al Diamon explores some forbidden truths:

Maine news organizations rely on interviews with [Maine congressional] delegation members to determine what they're up to. This method has several obvious drawbacks, the most glaring being that our elected officials in the nation's capital aren't likely to tell us anything they don't want us to know...

In fact, doing thorough checking on whatever senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree claim to have supported or opposed is almost unheard of in the mainstream media. Journalists who regularly cover the delegation don't want to annoy any of the members, because that could result in being frozen out of interviews.

As a result, stories about the Mainers in Congress generally fall in a couple of categories: 1. how influential they are and 2. how they stand on controversial issues.

The first group of articles can be dismissed, because they almost always rely heavily on the senators and representatives themselves to make the determination about their influence...They aren't journalism. They're campaign material.

The second group could be useful if reporters put in enough effort. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen often.
Of course, perhaps the main reason reporters don't put in the effort is that, as Diamon observes above, they're afraid to ask tough questions anyway.

And they virtually never do. I can remember only a single instance since 2008 in which a reporter at one of the Maine dailies asked Sen. Collins--or really, her spokesman--a question that might have made the junior senator uncomfortable.

And even this was in the context of a swirling national controversy--and so the reporter was (among other things) giving Collins the opportunity to respond to a rising chorus of criticism. In other words, to get out her side of the story.

In short, with scarcely any exceptions, asking Sens. Snowe and Collins tough question is something that simply isn't done in Maine. The state's senators are treated in the press like sainted celebrities, not accountable public officials.

The Two Crown Princesses?

Via Paul Krugman, here's Rep. David Obey (D-WI) with his account of the early-2009 stimulus debate:

When Obama took over we were still in the middle of a free fall. So his Treasury people came in and his other economic people came in and said "Hey, we need a package of $1.4 trillion."

We started sending suggestions down to OMB waiting for a call back. After two and a half weeks, we started getting feedback. We put together a package that by then the target had been trimmed to $1.2 trillion.

And then [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm Emanuel said to me, "Geez, do you really think we can afford to come in with a package that big, isn’t it going to scare people?"

I said, "Rahm, you will need that shock value so that people understand just how serious this problem is." They wanted to hold it to less than $1 trillion.

Then [Pennsylvania Senator Arlen] Specter and the two crown princesses from Maine [Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins] took it down to less than $800 billion. Spread over two and a half years, that's a hell of a lot of money, but spread over two and a half years in an economy this large, it doesn't have a lot of fiscal power.
Obey seems, conveniently, to have forgotten the role of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) in the policy mess.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Collins and the Right Flank

Why would a non-ideological, pro-abortion rights, pro-gay rights moderate go out of her way to raise money for a staunchly anti-abortion supporter of a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage?

The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Collins will headline a $1,000-a-plate luncheon for Toomey's Pennsylvania Senate campaign Aug. 2 at the Union League.


Toomey earned high marks from antiabortion organizations for his congressional voting record; he also supported a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Democrats deride him as an extremist, noting he had a more conservative voting record than former Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.) by some measures.

Maybe Sen. Collins just has a thing for radical, right-wing senate candidates from Pennsylvania?

More seriously, it's worth noting that Collins is backing--and putting her fundraising prowess at the disposal of--a candidate who, in 2003, got a zero rating out of 100 from the League of Conservation Voters and a 100 out of 100 from the Christian Coalition. (Toomey's Democratic rival, Rep. Joe Sestak, is a former Navy admiral and a moderate, with issue positions that line up more closely with what Collins purports to believe. Go figure.)

To be clear, and for newer readers: The point isn't that the junior senator, by supporting a far-right ideologue, is showing herself to be uniquely nefarious.

The point is actually the opposite: Far from being a transcendent, above-the-fray oracle of centrist wisdom, Collins is just another loyal member of the Republican team.

Because of the exigencies of Maine politics, she's forced to side with the opposition a couple of times a year. But she's as partisan as she can get away with being.

Or, as an anonymous GOP leadership aide once told Roll Call, "Susan Collins is as conservative a Senator as can be elected from Maine."

The decision to headline a Toomey fundraiser just underscores that truth--one that's been obvious for years to anyone paying close attention.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More Line-Item Veto

A couple more points about the junior senator's sloppy about-face on the line-item veto:

--An e-mail from Project Vote Smart Research Associate Matthew Cornwall confirms the accuracy of the online questionnaire.

I just took a look at [Sen. Collins'] Political Courage Test from 2008 and the answers all match what is on the website. These Tests go through numerous checks and the candidate's responses should be entirely accurate.
--Yesterday, I missed an obvious point about Collins' purported reason for opposing the line-item veto--that it concentrates too much power in the executive.

Coming from Collins, that line of argument is ludicrous. This is a pol, after all, who has been practically begging the Obama administration to hold American citizens indefinitely without charges, in violation of the law and the Constitution.

So we're supposed to believe that a policy of snatching up Americans without charges--and the unchecked agglomeration of executive power it would represent--is no big deal to Collins. In fact, she welcomes it.

But it's the line-item veto that apparently raises all sorts of red flags.

I would call this line of reasoning facetious. But even that doesn't capture the depths of its cynicism and bad faith.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Evolving Standards

In Sunday's BDN, we learn that Susan Collins opposes the line-item veto:

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the president and Congress need to work together to hold spending in line. She said the president's proposal would fundamentally change the balance of power and she cannot support such a shift.
But does Collins oppose giving line-item veto authority to the president on principle? Or does she just oppose giving it to this president?

If I'm reading this 2008 candidate questionnaire correctly, it would appear the latter. Scroll down to "Campaign Finance and Government Reform Issues" and you'll see that Collins put an 'x' on the line affirming that she, "Support[s] giving the President the power of the line item veto for items concerning appropriations."

I'm not sure which is more depressing: That Mal Leary--who's widely thought of as one of the better reporters in Maine--just takes dictation from the junior senator and doesn't think to do a twenty second Google search for her past position on the issue.

Or that Collins gets away with this sort of thing with total impunity--and press complicity--even though in most states it would be a headline-grabbing snafu, generating loads of media commentary.

Don't get me wrong, Collins has been guilty of a whole heap of unremarked upon hypocrisy over the last two years--on presidential appointments, the wars, arresting terrorists, and health care--to name but four areas.

But if Project Vote Smart's questionnaire is accurate, it's hard to think of a more blatant example than this.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Did we mention we're on Twitter?

Playing Defense

This morning Sen. Collins and her pal Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) try to argue their way out of a PR jam, pushing back on the idea that their cybersecurity bill is a civil liberties disaster.

If the government knew an attack that could have catastrophic consequences for Americans or our economy was imminent or under way, this legislation would give the president the authority to implement emergency measures protecting a select group of the most important networks and assets needed to maintain our way of life, while still respecting the civil liberties of our citizens.

These emergency measures would have to be the "least disruptive means feasible" and would automatically expire within 30 days. The president could renew the 30-day emergency measures up to three times for a maximum of only 120 days, and after that Congress would have to approve any extension.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think this will satisfy the bill's critics.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Voting With Her Dollars

Sen. Collins gives $750 to Republican Paul LePage's gubernatorial campaign.

Collins said she considers LePage a "very strong candidate" who has the "right message for the people of Maine."
Is she talking about the message that environmental regulations should be gutted or the message that creationism should be taught in public schools?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Andrew Ian Dodge: Snowe "Arrogant"

When Andrew Ian Dodge recently--and audaciously--guaranteed that Sen. Snowe would be in for a 2012 primary fight, I was intrigued. So last Friday, I gave the Maine Tea Party Patriots coordinator a call.

Gregarious and well-spoken, Dodge told me that he's worked in politics in both the US and the UK--including a stint managing a friend's campaign for parliament during a long stretch living overseas.

Several years ago, he moved back to Maine, where his family's roots stretch back several generations.

When I asked about the tea party movement in the state, and the threat it presents to Snowe, he was surprisingly measured: Dodge focused on the challenges facing the Maine Tea Party coming out of a divisive Republican primary--the potential for fracturing and infighting; the risk of being seen as the "cranky end of the Republican party"; the fact that many tea partiers are new to politics.

In fact, if anything he seemed to be downplaying the potential pitfalls Snowe faces on the road to reelection: He emphasized how powerful the senior senator is within a state Republican party he sees as insular, establishment-oriented and moderate--and more or less cut off from average voters. And he drew attention to the career risks a Republican pol would face by taking Snowe on.

But isn't Snowe almost ridiculously out of step with the Maine GOP base? Doesn't the current political climate make the senior senator's have-it-both-ways posture more difficult than ever to sustain? And isn't the tea party movement just the sort of energetic, ideological grassroots phenomenon that could nudge the Maine GOP into a paradigm shift?

Evenhanded and cautious, Dodge clearly didn't want to inflate expectations. Still, he did concede that, in Maine, "if you can get 2,000 people at the same time to the same place you're doing something right." And he expressed confidence that, if the movement survives the midterms, the Maine Tea Party will be well-positioned to do big things in 2012.

What's more, while Dodge was reserved--almost dispassionate--when talking about organization and strategy, his tone changed when the topic shifted to Snowe herself. "Her arrogance is amazing," he observed, his contempt palpable. He seemed particularly incensed about her failure to hold town hall meetings or engage with average voters. (Sound familiar?)

And while there wasn't time for an extensive discussion of policy (elsewhere, Dodge has defined the tea party movement as, "at its core, a non-partisan movement that seeks to unseat all politicians that are not fiscally conservative") it's clear that Snowe's work on health care won't be forgotten anytime soon.

In short, Dodge's critique--far from hysterical or unhinged--was coherent and pretty straightforward.

Which is not particularly good news for the senior senator.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Revisiting The Stimulus

It seems likelier by the day that the Recovery Act--the stimulus bill--was insufficient for the job it was meant to do. If events continue to point in that direction, President Obama and his economic team bear responsibility for thinking too small, and then accepting a package from Congress that was even smaller.

But while the President deserves criticism for flawed policy formulation and execution (and for his recent efforts to massage the ugly facts rather than confront them) it's worth recalling that he had some powerful enablers. And Sen. Collins was just about chief among them.

Remember, Collins was one of a handful of "swing votes" whose support was necessary to overcome the inevitable Republican filibuster of the legislation. And she was one of just two senators who worked publicly and assiduously (if often incoherently) to shrink the bill.

And the junior senator was very successful: Her deal making resulted in $86 billion in cuts, including billions in cuts to law enforcement grants, education funding, surface transportation programs and--infamously--pandemic flu preparedness dollars. She also voted against an extra $25 billion in highway, mass transit, water and sewer spending. And along the way, she permitted billions to be cut from LIHEAP and home weatherization programs.

(One upshot of Collins' tireless efforts and tough bargaining? Hundreds of millions of dollars less for Maine.)

There are plenty of towns that would have benefited from a few more repaved roads and a couple of extra cops on the beat. But the funds Collins was able to cut wouldn't have just bolstered the nation's infrastructure and put money in the pockets of workers. They would have also stabilized communities and boosted confidence.

Today the economy is weaker--and more Americans remain out of work--because that spending never happened.

Again, the ultimate fault lies with the President, who accepted the deal Collins and others were offering. He could certainly have worked harder to twist arms. Or he could have taken his case to the American people, the citizens of Maine, etc.

But it's clearer than ever that, when it came to the stimulus debate, the junior senator was someone who should have been resisted rather than accommodated.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

And From The Right

Just before the long weekend, I had a nice chat with Maine Tea Party Nation Patriots Coordinator Andrew Ian Dodge.

Interesting stuff. More on that soon.

But for now, I want to flag this Collins-backed bill--and the discussion swirling around it. Dodge, for one, isn't exactly thrilled about the legislation.

And he seems to have some company.

UPDATE: Looks like I got Andrew Ian Dodge's title wrong. I have now corrected it. Sorry for the error.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Wall Street or Main Street?

John Cranford at CQ:

This [bank] tax would have collected $19 billion over four years starting in 2012. It would have been levied on the very largest financial companies--not just banks with insured deposits, but also hedge funds and the like...

The tax was added at the last minute during conference negotiations on the measure, mostly to keep it more or less deficit-neutral by offsetting the expected costs of cleaning up future failed financial companies...

But objections were heard from some Republican senators who had voted to pass the bill in May, among them Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts and Susan Collins of Maine. In a letter to the bill’s sponsors, Brown complained that the cost of the tax would be passed along to "millions of American consumers and small businesses" who use large financial institutions for banking services.

Well, from an economist’s point of view, Brown is right that the cost would be passed along. But every cost a company incurs is paid by someone--a combination of shareholders, customers and employees. So, too, the price of the economic collapse was passed along to all of those people--and also to the taxpayers who may never get back all the money used to keep the system lubricated.

The issue in this case is whether the $19 billion tax was the right financial offset for the future. The intention was to target very large institutions, the ones that were in the thick of the mess the last time and that benefited directly--and indirectly--from government intervention...It’s hard to imagine that [Brown or Collins] would prefer that this cost be more broadly levied on Main Street. In effect, though, that will be the case.

The bill now would require the FDIC to increase deposit insurance premiums paid by a wider universe of banks, not just the biggest ones--and hedge funds wouldn't be assessed at all. Do Brown and Collins not think that deposit insurance premiums are a cost that will be passed along to millions of consumers and small businesses?
(Emphasis mine.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The "Healthy" Maine GOP

I don't agree with everything in this Politico article. But the broad point is certainly one worth airing. Not that it will get much play in the Maine media.

Stung by a series of setbacks on must-pass legislation, Democrats think they've found a culprit: local tea party influence in the home states of usually reliable moderates.

In a span of just a few days, Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have forced Democrats to dramatically scale back an unemployment benefits and tax bill, and they were part of a small coalition that effectively killed a bank tax tucked into a major Wall Street overhaul bill.

Democrats believe their positioning is no coincidence if one looks at what's going on back in Maine.

The Maine Republican Party has moved fiercely to the right with a new party backed by tea partiers, and GOP voters nominated a gubernatorial candidate who emerged as a tea party favorite. More pressing for Snowe, however, is that some conservative activists want to find a primary challenger to run against her in 2012.


"It's getting increasingly difficult," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, when asked about rounding up moderate GOP votes. "And I think Maine is going through its own transformation and challenge within the Republican Party. And I think that's a factor."

Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the Finance Committee chairman, said "different senators vote the way they do--who knows all the constellations and reasons." And while he said he wasn't sure about the Maine moderates’ motivations to hold firm against the tax extenders bill, he said he “heard” from others that home-state politics were a factor.

In interviews with POLITICO, Snowe, Collins and Murkowski all rejected the idea that shifting politics back home would change their votes in the Senate, saying they were concerned about the costs and provisions in the proposed legislation...

Yet there's no denying that the Maine Republican Party is in a different place these days.

In May, the Maine Republican Party adopted a platform that praises the tea party movement and calls for an investigation into the "collusion between government and industry in the global warming myth," a "freeze" of stimulus funds, a rejection of all treaties with the United Nations, elimination of the Department of Education, steps to abolish the Federal Reserve and an assertion that health care is not a right...

In an interview, Collins hailed the GOP’s gubernatorial primary in her state, saying it turned out the largest number of voters in nearly 60 years, claiming it was a sign of the "health" of the state party. The energy behind the party platform, she said, was the result of anxiety about jobs and an antipathy toward the Democratic-controlled state Legislature.

Asked if her state’s Republican Party was squeezing out moderates, Collins said: "Not at all. Look, there were several moderate candidates who ran for governor. The party in Maine is a big-tent party, and we are united and concerned about spending."


Snowe, up for reelection in 2012 for a fourth term, is already being targeted by tea party groups in her state that cite her support for an early version of Democratic health care legislation and her decision to vote for the $787 billion stimulus--as Collins did, too.

"She will have an opponent in the primary--I guarantee it," Andrew Dodge, a coordinator for the Maine Tea Party Patriots, said of Snowe.


In an interview, Snowe said she was not worried about talk of facing a primary challenge in 2012.

"I’m sure many people have a lot of conversations," Snowe said. "My concern is solving problems for the nation, as I have for the time that I've been here, so I wouldn’t worry about that."