Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Quote of the Day

Ezra Klein:

Olympia Snowe is arguably the most independent Republican in the Senate--and she's stuck with her party on 67.3 percent of votes in this Congress. That is to say, if you knew nothing about Snowe save that she was a Republican, you could predict her vote about 70 percent of the time.

And Snowe is actually uncommonly willing to vote with the other side. Ben Nelson is in Snowe territory, voting with the Democrats 67.6 percent of the time, and so is Susan Collins...The reality is that the single most important thing to know about any politician is which party they'll caucus with. Full stop.

Campaigns are built to fool us into thinking that we're voting for individuals. We learn about the candidate's family, her job, her background--even her dog. But we're primarily voting for parties. The parties have just learned we're more likely to vote for them if they disguise themselves as individuals. And American politics would work better if we understood that.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Last Two Years

In today's edition of PPH, Rebekah Metzler looks back at the 111th Congress and Sen. Collins' role within it.

On the one hand, the piece isn't Nemitz or Wickenheiser-style hagiography--it's not a gushing, completely one-sided take on the last two years. Critical voices are included and a couple of embarrassing facts even get mentioned.

So in the context of PPH's recent history, it counts as a genuine step in the right direction.

Still, it privileges Collins' point of view, omits key context and engages in revisionism in ways that just about always seem to reinforce Collins' centrist branding.

And while no Maine political reporter who wants continued access to the junior senator is likely to undercut the "Collins-as-moderate-nonideological-pragmatist" narrative too often, Metzler seems to go out of her way to reinforce it. Even when the facts cut against it.

A few observations:

--On the stimulus, Metzler leads off by noting Collins' opposition to new grass for the national mall, implying that a lot of projects she objected to were dubious if not downright frivolous. In truth, the cuts she insisted on were deep and substantive.

--The piece implies that Collins replaced these supposedly frivolous stimulus initiatives with "traditional infrastructure" projects. In reality, Collins voted against $25 billion in highway, mass transit, water and sewer spending. The net effect of her involvement in stimulus debate was massive cuts to (for example) special education funding, LIHEAP and home weatherization programs. Any of which would have been roughly as stimulative as infrastructure spending.

--In Metzler's piece, we learn that Collins was denied votes on several amendments during the health care debate. But we are never told that this happened after the junior senator had spent months working to delay, dilute and kill the bill. Or that the amendments were effectively poison pills since Collins was still committed to voting against the bill even if they passed.

--Metzler never spells out that Collins voted to block even a vote on the health care bill, after characterizing health care as a key issue during her 2008 campaign and calling candidate Obama's plan "pretty good" and one she was open to supporting.

This enormous flip-flop on the biggest policy issue in years has (as far as I know) literally never been mentioned in the Maine media. The silence on the subject from the Maine press is, to put it plainly, scandalous.

--Metzler finds plenty of space to trumpet the junior senator's bipartisan moderate centrist credentials. But there isn't even a passing mention of her disingenuous ultra-partisan ravings in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing.

It wasn't a piece of legislation, but it was an important national story and Collins was at the center of it. It deserved to be included in any survey of her activity since 2008.

We've invited Metzler to share her comments about our thoughts. If she takes up the offer, we'll let you know.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Winger Sentenced After Collins Threat

Am I wrong, or is this the first we've heard of this?


An Illinois man was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court to five months in prison followed by five months of community confinement for threatening to shoot U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and assault a staffer in her Augusta office during a phone call on Feb. 10, 2009.

John P. O'Neill, 47, of Arlington Heights, Ill., also was sentenced to three years of supervised release after pleading guilty to one count of making threatening interstate communications.


The unemployed ironworker, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, called Collins' Augusta office 17 times between Feb. 9 and Feb. 12, 2009, according to court documents. At first, O'Neill urged the senator to vote against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion stimulus package.

When he learned that Collins supported the bill, O'Neill made the phone call that led to the criminal charge...

O'Neill told the staffer, who is identified in court documents by the initials C.M., that Collins had sold out her country and was a disgrace to the Republican Party. He then said that he was going to "put a bullet in her head" and that he was going to "come to Maine and kick [C.M.'s] teeth in," according to court documents.

The threats were reported immediately to the Threat Assessment Section of the U.S. Capitol Police, which notified the FBI, according to court documents. Agents in Illinois visited O'Neill at his home in a Chicago suburb the same day he made the threats.


After O'Neill serves five months in a federal prison, he will be confined to a community treatment center or group home where he can continue treatment for his mental health and substance abuse problems, Woodcock said.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Of Two (Three?) Minds

Sen. Snowe, last Thursday:

Snowe expressed frustration at the fate of the contentious small business bill that she helped to draft. The bill, which would create a $30 billion lending fund for small businesses, has recently been opposed by Republican lawmakers, including Snowe, who have asked for amendments to the bill.
And four days later:
Sen. Olympia Snowe says a package of tax breaks aimed at helping small businesses grow is her top priority when Congress gets back to work in mid-September.

The Maine Republican first introduced the legislation in January. She says Senate Democratic leaders have repeatedly delayed consideration of the bill, even though it has the support of President Obama and senators from both parties.
Apparently the senior senator opposes the bill and it's her top priority. Or something.

Also, Republicans are against it but also for it. And Democrats are to blame.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

Village Soup:

Snowe expressed frustration at the fate of the contentious small business bill that she helped to draft. The bill, which would create a $30 billion lending fund for small businesses, has recently been opposed by Republican lawmakers, including Snowe, who have asked for amendments to the bill.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quote of the Day

Former Maine Republican Party Vice Chairman Scott Kauffman:

The Maine GOP would like me to support a candidate who has openly called global warming a "hoax"...

Environmental protection is absolutely vital for Maine. And yet the GOP asks for my unity behind a candidate who has called for the closing of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Despite the ongoing disaster in the Gulf Coast, LePage is still in support of drilling for oil off our coast. How can I support a candidate who is willing to put two of our largest industries, fishing and tourism, at risk?
Remember, moderate bipartisan centrist that she is, Sen. Collins says that LePage has the "right message for the people of Maine."

And to back up those words, she gave his campaign $750.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Snowe Watch

Somehow I missed this:

One national polling outfit believes Senator Olympia Snowe will have a hard time winning a Republican primary next year.

"If Snowe wants to be elected, she needs to run as an independent," says Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, N.C., which in November found 59 percent of likely primary voters would prefer a more conservative candidate. "Maine Republicans are willing to support a Tea Party candidate."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The Hill:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last night estimated that the latest version of the Democrats' plan to extend emergency Medicaid benefits will reduce the federal deficit by almost $1.4 billion over the next decade.

The $16.1 billion Medicaid provision [is] part of a $26.1 billion package that also provides education funding to prevent teacher layoffs...

Maine Sen. Susan Collins...thinks the Medicaid funding extension "is necessary," her office told The Hill recently. But a spokesman also warned that her support would come only if "the enhanced FMAP rate is largely offset and would not contribute to our country’s fiscal problems."
So essentially, Collins won't sign off on Medicaid funding if it increases the deficit. And so the bill was rewritten to fit that requirement.

But this is all happening at the same time, remember, that the junior senator is supporting the passage of a new law to extend billions (trillions?) of dollars in unpaid-for, deficit-ballooning tax cuts for millionaires.

Holding both of those positions doesn't make Collins a hypocrite. But it does mean she's a pretty doctrinaire conservative.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Later Today

Via Politico:

With a Senate vote slated for Monday evening, the White House shows signs of a late-breaking push behind a $26.1 billion aid package to help state and local governments cope with revenue shortfalls due to the continuing housing crisis and slow economic recovery...

Cash-strapped governors are promised $16.1 billion to pay Medicaid bills next year and ease their budget situation; another $10 billion in education assistance would go to school boards to help with teacher hiring...

Monday’s vote to cut off debate will require 60 votes--a high bar to meet and one that will require Republican help.

Toward this end, Reid offset the full cost through a combination of foreign tax credit provisions and $17.1 billion in savings chiefly from cuts to food stamps and prior appropriations. The Medicaid assistance, which extends a program begun under the Recovery Act, is designed now to phase out in the first six months of 2011—something recommended by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.)
It doesn't increase the deficit. (Not that that's ever really been the issue.)

Good on Gag Rule

You wouldn't know it from reading the Maine press, but Sen. Collins has had a pretty abysmal record on abortion-related issues over the last eight years or so.

She cast a critical vote for Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court, and backed the nominations of other activist, anti-choice judges like Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. But that's not all.

Collins also took the anti-choice position on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, a backdoor attempt to undermine Roe. And she refused to join supporters of reproductive freedom in speaking out against a Bush administration rule designed to give health care providers wide latitude to deny services to women on a case by case basis.

Her record was so poor that Planned Parenthood endorsed her challenger in the 2008 election, the first time the organization backed an opponent of a candidate it had previously endorsed.

And then, as if to confirm the fears of pro-choice Mainers, the junior senator had this to say during the recent health care debate:

"If Congress makes the mistake of establishing a new government-owned insurance company, it would need to extend the prohibition [on abortion coverage] to that company because it is using federal funds."
That remark got lost in tumult of the reform debate, but it's a comment worth carefully parsing and mulling over: Here we have a nominally pro-choice pol trying to torpedo the public option by misrepresenting its design (a government-owned "company"?) and adopting the right-wing talking point that a public plan couldn't possibly cover abortion--even though individuals would be paying their own premiums--simply because the plan was administered by a federal agency.

In short, Collins managed to demonstrate bad faith, stealth conservatism and go-for-the-jugular partisanship all in a single sentence.

Good times.

In any event, all of this is by way of introduction to the news that Collins has done something right on the issue of choice for a change:

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted in favor of an amendment to permanently repeal...the Global Gag Rule [which] prohibits the US from funding overseas organizations that support abortion in any way--including direct services, counseling, or lobbying activities--even if the groups use their own monies for such activity...

According to Population Action International, the amendment passed on a 19 to11 vote, winning the support of almost all Democrats and two Republican Senators, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
It's hard to know how to reconcile the junior senator's various positions on the issue. But anyway, this is a positive development.