Thursday, December 8, 2011

Principles and Commitments

Yesterday an anonymous commenter drew attention to the text of the "Gang of 14" agreement to argue that Sen. Collins had committed to the "extraordinary circumstances" standard for judicial nominee filibusters only for a set period of time.

Indeed, the text of the agreement specifies that its provisions are "related to...judicial nominations in the 109th Congress." So it's certainly fair to say that Collins, by backing filibusters in less than extraordinary circumstances several years later, hasn't violated the letter of the agreement.

On the other hand, I don't remember anyone stressing the time-limited nature of the Gang of 14 compromise when it was put into effect. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that there was a widely shared sense that the "extraordinary circumstances" standard in particular was being put forward as a "new normal"--one the Gang of 14 members didn't just settle for but actually believed in.

And the contemporaneous news accounts that show up near the top of a Google search do nothing to undercut that impression.

But of course, the best way to evaluate Collins' integrity on the issue is to look at her own statements. Here's her press release on the agreement:

This agreement is based on trust. And most important, it helps preserve the unique culture of this institution. It is a culture that is built upon a foundation of collegiality and cooperation that transcends partisanship. It is a culture in which legislative goals are reached with patience and perseverance, and through the art of negotiation and compromise. This agreement preserves that Senate culture and shows a respect for the important principles that make the Senate such a great institution.
And here she is in 2010, several years after the end of the 109th Congress:
In 2005, a group of senators came together to negotiate an agreement for considering judicial nominees. This "Gang of 14," of which I was part, sought to avoid what was known as the "nuclear option," a change in the Senate rules that would have brought about a legislative meltdown.


While leaders on both sides hardened their positions, the 14 of us--seven from each party--joined to forge a solution. We established a new standard, stating that we would support filibusters of judicial nominees only in "extraordinary circumstances."


Our deal restored trust and helped preserve the unique culture of the Senate.
If in 2010 Collins thought that her commitment to the culture-preserving, principle-respecting "extraordinary circumstances" standard had long lapsed...she sure had a funny way of expressing it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Promise Breaking

Can anyone sincerely believe that Collins' bizarre interest in pruning the judiciary meets the "extraordinary circumstances" threshold that she committed to back in 2005?

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine joined all but one other Republican today in blocking the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.


Collins told reporters on Capitol Hill that she voted against the former New York state solicitor general because the seat has been vacant for six years and is no longer needed because the D.C. Circuit’s case load is on the wane.


Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California was among those pointing out that there are three vacancies currently on the D.C. Circuit, so two seats would remain vacant if Halligan is confirmed.


Snowe and Collins are part of a group of senators who have promised not to use the filibuster to block judicial nominees from receiving final Senate votes except under extraordinary circumstances.
As with Collins' decision to block the nomination of Goodwin Liu and her vote against the confirmation of trailblazer Alison Nathan, what's involved here--other than hypocrisy--is naked partisan politics.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011



President Obama hopes to persuade Maine's two senators and several other Republican lawmakers to break party ranks and help confirm his nominee to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

A Senate vote is expected this week, but so far Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are apparently not budging.

Both have said they are concerned about oversight of the bureau.


Former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray is Obama's nominee to head the bureau.


Collins has met with Cordray and found him to be "an intelligent, qualified individual," said Kevin Kelley, Collins' spokesman.
Remember in 2008 when Collins ran on a platform of blocking qualified nominees to extract political concessions? Me neither.

But then maybe there's another explanation for what's going on here?

Collins is disappointed "the White House is choosing to make this a partisan issue," Kelley said.
Got that? The Obama administration has the temerity to try to stand up a regulatory agency mandated by law--a law Collins voted for--and they're the ones engaged in partisan politics.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Standing Corrected

Sen. Collins surprises your humble narrator and does the right thing, coming out in favor of the payroll tax cut being offered up by Senate Democrats:

Collins said in a phone interview tonight that her goal is to make sure "working families aren't faced with a tax increase come January, frankly at a very bad time given the fragility of our economy."

And while Collins doesn't want to see small business owners hit with a surcharge on the income tax paid by people making more than $1 million, she said the Senate Democrats' proposal does help offset the impact of the surcharge by also applying the payroll tax cut to the first $5 million of an employer's payroll as well as to employees' wages.
Since the bill doesn't have enough support to make it to the floor, the vote is more or less symbolic.

But it's an important symbol.

And when a pol as typically obsequious to corporate interests as Susan Collins feels compelled to align herself with working people at the expense of the wealthiest among us, you know the political winds have shifted.

Quote of the Day

Sen. Collins:

"What we've been hearing over and over again is that the reason Republicans are opposed to the surtax [on the rich] is because of the concern on its impact on job creation," she said. "Well if you carve out employers you take away that argument."