Thursday, December 6, 2012

Threading the Needle

Both Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News have stories up today suggesting that Sen. Collins now says she favors extending middle class tax cuts immediately and sorting out questions about tax breaks for the rich later.

But did she actually say this?

Kevin Miller and Matthew Stone are relatively new to the Collins beat. So they may not be aware of the senator's long history of using ambiguous statements to send different messages to different constituencies--and to win press coverage that conveys almost the opposite of what she's up to.

Collins did this on Iraq, hinting that she backed a substantial troop withdrawal when she actually supported no such thing.

She did it on "don't ask don't tell"--telling reporters that she would vote for repeal even as she signed a letter vowing to block it.

She's done it often. And she's quite good at it.

So is the junior senator up to the same shenanigans when it comes to taxes and the middle class?

I think it's clear that she is.

Consider: While her statement says in passing that extending the middle class tax rates immediately "has merit" the junior senator also warns that "we must, however, work to protect small business owners"--which we know from prior discussion Collins thinks includes people making $1 million per year and up.

The statement then proceeds to tout Collins's own proposal to protects these high-income individuals without ever explicitly stating that she would vote for a middle income rate extension that didn't include her "small business" carve out.

Finally, as Miller notes in his piece:

Collins voted earlier this year against a Democratic bill to only extend the middle class tax cuts.
The clear upshot of all this is that Collins, while making friendly noises about a middle class rate extension (it "has merit"), has fallen far short of actually embracing it.

Meanwhile, she has succeeded in generating headlines that suggest she's in sync with the views of most Mainers while at the same time leaving herself enough wiggle room to tell a different story to her wealthy benefactors and the lunatic fringe of the Maine GOP.

It's a needle she's threaded before. And one she's sure to try to thread again.

Hopefully next time, Maine reporters will be wise to the game.

Here's the full statement:

"Representative Cole's proposal to proceed with an extension of tax relief for working families making $250,000 or less has merit because everyone agrees lower and middle-income families should not be subjected to higher taxes.

"I believe that very wealthy individuals—millionaires and billionaires—should pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes to help us reduce the soaring deficit. In April, I was the only Republican to vote to proceed to consideration of a bill, the so-called "Buffett Rule," which would have imposed a new minimum tax on the very wealthy.

"We must, however, work to protect small business owners—our nation's job creators--from the impact of higher taxes that are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of the year.

"Last December, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and I offered a bipartisan job creation plan that included a two-percent surtax on millionaires. But our proposal also included a "carve-out" provision to protect small business owners who pay taxes through the individual income tax system. We recognize that while multimillionaires and billionaires can afford to pay more to help us deal with our unsustainable deficit, small businesses cannot. Small business owner-operators are on the front lines of our economy. The income that shows up on their personal income tax returns is critical to their ability to create jobs, finance investment, and grow their businesses."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins:

"I continue to be troubled by the fact that the UN ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of the contentious presidential election campaign by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration’s position."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Side of Collins

Michael Grunwald's THE NEW NEW DEAL--a behind-the-scenes look at the 2009 stimulus bill--doesn't add much of substance to the public record of Sen. Collins's often deleterious role in the debate, her frequently contradictory claims about her goals for the bill or the vacuousness at the heart of her approach to the legislation.

But it does provide us with two notable anecdotes that reveal a side of Collins I don't believe the public has seen before. I certainly haven't.


The Recovery Act was a complex bill, and the negotiations to get it through the Senate were complex, too...But as they started cutting a deal in [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid's office that Friday, February 6, the bottom line was pretty simple. The Democrats wanted a stimulus, and they couldn't get one without Specter, Collins and Snowe.

Lieberman was in the room to support Collins--she joked that she needed a Jewish lawyer...

[President Obama's Chief of Staff] Rahm [Emanuel] did try to steer $10 billion back into school construction, but the moderates said no. [Office of Management and Budget Director Peter] Orszag proposed limiting the money to existing schools. Still no. Could states at least use their general education aid to fix schools? That was at least something to talk about...During one technical dispute over how some language would affect Maine's school construction agency, Orszag begged Collins to give ground.

"Please," he said. "Do this for me."

Collins just laughed.

"That's funny," she said. "You still want people to like you."

I'm puzzled by Collins's decision to arrive at negotiations with Lieberman in tow. Is that standard practice?

That said, I'm not suggesting either anecdote reveals anything unseemly. And while Collins's choice of words in reply to Orszag seems more jaded than one might have expected, his comment seems to merit the kind of brush-off she gave him.

Still, the dry, sardonic and politically incorrect sense of humor in evidence here suggests that the portrait of Collins that emerges from public appearances, fawning Maine press coverage and national television interviews is probably incomplete.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Systemic Failure and the Maine Press

Four states will be voting on marriage equality-related referendums next Tuesday.

Of the eight senators who represent those states, six have told voters where they stand on the issue and how they'll vote on election day.

In Maryland, Sens. Mikulski (D) and Cardin (D) support the state's same-sex marriage law, as do Sens. Cantwell (D) and Murray (D) in Washington state. (Like Sen. Snowe, Murray voted for DOMA in 1996. Unlike Snowe, she has repudiated that vote.)

In Minnesota, meanwhile, Sens. Klobuchar (D) and Franken (D) have been vocal opponents of a referendum to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state's constitution. Franken and his wife Franni have appeared in a poignant ad on the subject.

That leaves Sens. Collins and Snowe. Neither senator has taken a public position on Maine's referendum, which they'll be voting on in three days. Their silence hasn't garnered a single mention from the state's major media outlets--not a single article or blog post on the subject.

All we've got to go on, courtesy of the Washington Blade, is this:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she's "considering" her position on the initiative in an email provided Thursday morning to the Washington Blade...

"Next month, the voters in Maine will be asked to decide if they will allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Like voters in my state, I am considering this issue very carefully."

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who's set to retire Congress at the end of this year, expressed a similarly neutral position in a separate statement later Thursday.

"It is left to individual states through the legislature or referenda to make their own determinations on this personal issue--and the people of Maine will now make this final determination come Election Day," Snowe said.

As I noted last week, Collins's response--that she's still "considering" the issue--is both cowardly and insincere. Indeed, it takes a special kind of cowardice to ask for a pass on the most contested social issue of the decade mere days before you'll be voting on it.

But looking at the cowardice of Collins and Snowe in isolation would be a mistake. It's important to ask why Snowe and Collins think they can get away with it. And the answer there is clear: It's only a viable political strategy because of the deference of the Maine press.

In a healthier media ecosystem, this kind of dynamic would never exist. Reporters, hungry for good stories, would be more interested in challenging Snowe and Collins than coddling them. Editors would be more worried about churning out salient copy than about tiptoeing around powerful pols. And outlets would be tripping over each other to be the first to report out such a high profile scoop.

Take Minnesota, whose media scene I'm at least loosely familiar with: If Franken and Klobuchar tried to dodge such a major issue, they would be pressed for answers by print, radio and TV reporters; ducked question would yield unflattering headlines; and ridicule on the opinion pages and in the alternative weeklies would follow soon after.

But in Maine, since Collins and Snowe would prefer not to discuss the topic, the question never gets asked. Even as reporters work with both senators to advance the narratives they're interested in pushing.

This isn't a blind spot. It's a systemic failure. And when you've been watching it for as long as I have, it's hard to accept that it's an accident.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Collins Drops Gay Marriage Hint?

Is Sen. Susan Collins laying the groundwork to come out in support of gay marriage? Seems like a real possibility.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she's "considering" her position on the initiative in an email provided Thursday morning to the Washington Blade as she recalled her previous opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment.

"Historically, laws regulating family and domestic affairs have been almost exclusively regulated by the states which is why I have voted against federal constitutional amendments defining marriage," Collins said. "Next month, the voters in Maine will be asked to decide if they will allow the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Like voters in my state, I am considering this issue very carefully."

Three points are in order.

--First, supporting marriage equality after years of opposition, once the idea gains widespread acceptance and popular support--if that's what Collins is up to--doesn't exactly make you a gay rights crusader. It makes you a follower.

And three weeks before an election, it stinks of finger-in-the-wind politics.

So while I'd expect Collins to receive lots of accolades and fawning press coverage in the wake of such an announcement, it's worth keeping in mind that the heavy lifting on this issue was done by others. Over years and years. Collins could have been one of those people--her center-right seal of approval would probably have given the cause a real jolt back in 2006 or 2008 or even 2010. But the junior senator decided to keep her head down.

--Second, how lame is it that in 2012 (!) Collins is still resorting to an answer that amounts, basically, to "I'll get back to you."

I understand that marriage equality is a tough issue for a lot of people. But it's been part of the national discussion for almost 20 years. So what principles is she weighing? What conflicting values is she wrestling with? What reservations does she have?

Or are we supposed to believe that three weeks before voting on the biggest hot-button issue of the decade, the junior senator is just now starting to work through her feelings on the topic? The insincerity is breathtaking.

--Third, it won't surprise anyone who's been paying attention that this issue was raised by a publication based outside of Maine. Inside the state, no mainstream outlet would have the temerity to press Collins on such a sensitive social issue until the junior senator had telegraphed her interest in discussing it. It's that simple.

Of course, once the senator makes her position known--especially if the new position is likely to be viewed favorably by Maine's center-left media consumers--the same outlets that had previously ignored the subject will then trumpet the announcement as a watershed development and major news event.

It's reactive and deferential. But that's just the way the Maine press works.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Revolving Door Watch

Whaddaya know? Sen. Collins' former legislative director--he worked for the junior senator as recently as earlier this year--is becoming a lobbyist.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Collins Rallies for McMahon

From the Hartford Courant:

Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski...were the featured speakers at a "Women for Linda" rally McMahon held Saturday afternoon at a Norwalk hotel...

Both Collins and Murkowski said McMahon would bring a woman's common sense touch to the dysfunction of Washington. Murkowski noted that the Senate was in session into the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, "and let me tell you, if the women were running the Senate, we wouldn't be voting at midnight."

Collins said she and the 16 other women Senators gather for dinner every six weeks or so. One day, a male colleague asked what those dinners were all about. Collins said she smiled sweetly and responded that the women were planning a coup. "And I can't think of a better person to help us execute that coup than Linda McMahon," she said as the crowd cheered.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Quote of the Day

Sen. Susan Collins:

Referring to Medicare and Social Security, [Collins] said she feared that [Romney's] comments at the fund-raiser would paint him as being against "earned programs that people pay into" and have "widespread support."

"He has just not brought sufficient clarity to what his vision for America is," Ms. Collins said.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In A Box

The Phoenix's Lance Tapley--one of Maine's best reporters--has this superb short piece about solitary confinement for apes and humans.

Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins is a key cosponsor of legislation that, among other provisions, would outlaw psychologically damaging solitary confinement for more than 500 chimpanzees caged for research in federally supported laboratories. In July the bill bipartisanly passed the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee on its way to a floor vote.


Some prisoner-rights advocates think it's ironic when laws give rights to animals that aren't extended to humans. Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright noted that, for example, "there are existing laws saying how much living space primates should have in captivity. By contrast, no such laws apply to humans in captivity."


S. 810, the Great Ape Protection Act, "corrects the pain and psychological damage that apes often experience as a result of needless experiments and solitary confinement," Senator Collins said in a recent statement. Repeated requests to her office for her views on human solitary confinement did not get a response.
It's been a while since a Maine journalist asked members of the congressional delegation a question they--or at least two of them--would rather not answer.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Talking Down Jefferson

Forty-one paragraphs into Colin Woodard's 2154-word profile of Sen. Collins' fiance Tom Daffron, the Chief Operating Officer at Jefferson Consulting Group has this to say about his company:

"We do very little lobbying at Jefferson as a general rule, and I don't do any and haven't for at least five years," he adds. "I've never lobbied Susan and would not because I think it would be inappropriate."
That all seems to be true as far as it goes--Jefferson did only $40,000 in lobbying in 2011, down from almost $1 million in 2007--but it obscures a larger point.

Jefferson's two other practice areas are government consulting (helping "federal agencies across the government" develop procurement programs, etc.) and federal business development, which the company describes thus:

Drawing on decades of experience and deep relationships with key decision makers across civilian and defense agencies, Jefferson matches client capabilities with government needs to create effective and innovative solutions for the government and sustainable revenue for our clients.
(Jefferson's client list includes the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Labor, the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the General Services Administration and the Internal Revenue Service among others.)

In short, Daffron runs a company that helps people figure out how to sell things to the federal government and helps the government figure out what to buy and how.

Did I mention that his future wife is the ranking member and past (future?) chairwoman of the committee charged with oversight of "the management, efficiency, effectiveness and economy of all agencies and departments of the Federal government"?

It may not have anything to do with lobbying, but that's one doozy of a conflict.

I'm not optimistic that we'll hear from Collins or Daffron about how they intend to manage that conflict. Nor do I think we're likely to learn what steps, if any, they'll take to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Which is not to say that such a conflict is insurmountable--or that it's unique.

But it would be a mistake to simply pretend that it doesn't exist.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Burying the Lede

Via Bruce Bourgoine, here are paragraphs 13 and 14 of Mal Leary's July 3 story on the Affordable Care Act in the Bangor Daily News:

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said there may be a way around [a future Democratic] filibuster [of an Affordable Care Act repeal] through a parliamentary maneuver she was told about just before the recess for the Fourth of July holiday. She said there is an argument that it will only take a simple majority for repeal, but she said that is not certain.

"Stay tuned," she said.
Stay tuned, indeed.

I haven't looked into Collins' claim, but I'm pretty sure the parliamentary maneuver she's talking about is the one stipulating that the filibuster is a sacred check on authoritarian overreach when invoked by Republicans and an undemocratic abomination when used by Democrats.

I'm kidding. Barely.

More seriously, the article underscores the fact that Maine press only breaks important news about Sen. Collins when it does so inadvertently.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Collins, Brown and Planned Parenthood

It's hard to know where to begin with Campbell Brown's bizarre, drive-by attack on Planned Parenthood in today's New York Times--in which Sen. Collins plays a starring role.

The key questions it fails to tackle are obvious and numerous:

--What evidence is there to suggest that Planned Parenthood has a "shrinking number of defenders"?

--Why shouldn't the organization endorse the candidate that has a better record on the issues it cares about?

--Why does Planned Parenthood owe deference to incumbent pols who happen to be pro-choice?

--Why do Planned Parenthood endorsements automatically imply that the organization views opponents of candidates it endorses as "enemies of the cause"?

--What does it say about the strength of Brown's case that she cites only two races, three cycles apart, out of the hundreds (thousands?) of races Planned Parenthood has reviewed for endorsement over the last four years?

But set aside the giant conceptual hole at the center of Brown's critique and the moderate-glorifying, power-coddling mindset on which it depends. Just as important are the facts Brown and Collins get wrong, and the disturbing implications of the junior senator's words.

For starters, Brown writes:

Senator Collins once had close ties to the group. Planned Parenthood endorsed her in 2002 because of her strong record of votes supporting abortion rights. Yet in her 2008 campaign, Planned Parenthood turned on her. The issue was her vote to confirm Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.
While it would have been perfectly sensible for Planned Parenthood to break with Collins over the nomination of Samuel Alito--a man who, prior to nomination, had declared his fervent support for the view that abortion isn't protected by the Constitution--the truth is more complicated. As I wrote during the 2008 race (by which time Alito had been on the court for more than two years):
Tellingly, she's never voiced misgivings about her Alito vote, or about his opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart--a verdict which brings us a step closer to a Roe reversal.

(Collins also sided with pro-life forces 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 new Bush administration rule that gives health care providers wide latitude to deny services to women on a case by case basis.)

These were three significant, prominent issues involving family planning; Collins sided with the pro-life camp all three times. To distill Planned Parenthood's objections to Collins down to the Alito vote is simply not accurate.

That said, Collins is certainly free to view Planned Parenthood's decision in her race as "infuriating" and to be "disappointed in the organization and how it cut ties to her." But--and this brings us to the piece's second major flaw--that's not what she said at the time:

Collins' spokesman Kevin Kelley said that the Collins campaign was not surprised by the endorsement [by Planned Parenthood of her opponent]...Collins did not seek an endorsement from the organization. (My emphasis.)
When you've been in the Senate as long as Collins has, I suppose you expect groups whose endorsements you don't seek to give you the nod anyway, and reserve the right to be infuriated when they don't comply. But I hope she'll forgive the rest of us for not acceding to that view.

Still, that's just a little old fashioned revisionism. It's the article's third misrepresentation--the junior senator's claim that Planned Parenthood is nothing more than an "arm of the Democratic National Committee"--that's hardest to forgive.

Why? Because it's obviously false. And you don't need to leave the state of Maine to prove it: Planned Parenthood helped raise more than $10,000 for Sen. Snowe during the current election cycle.

I thought it was an awful move, and said so at the time. But clearly, if the group was as partisan as Collins suggests, it wouldn't have solicited big dollar donations from its supporters for a Republican, let alone done so preemptively before any Democrat joined the race.

Collins knows this, or ought to. Her false smear is an attempt to bully one of the few interest groups in America that hasn't been swayed by her moderate reputation--one of the only institutions with power in DC that has opted to judge her on the basis of her actions in office rather than her squishy rhetoric.

The junior senator's reaction to this kind of scrutiny, as we see from the piece, is to lash out. Her words:

“Why should I try to make their case in the Republican caucus?"
How about because Planned Parenthood does critical family planning work that otherwise would not be done? Or because it performs a wide range of vital health services for Maine women and men? Or because you've been telling Mainers for years that you believe in its mission?

Or is that not enough?

Quote of the Day

Sen. Collins on Planned Parenthood in today's paper:

"Why should I try to make their case in the Republican caucus? I can't answer my colleagues when they say to me that Planned Parenthood is just a political party, because it is true."
(Planned Parenthood raised more than ten thousand dollars for Sen. Snowe during the current campaign cycle. More on this later or tomorrow.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Then and Then and Now

September 22, 2011

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and 20 of her colleagues introduced the Regulatory Time-Out Act, S. 1538. This bill would establish a one-year moratorium on regulations from the executive branch and independent regulatory agencies...

This moratorium would halt the implementation of rules to reduce mercury, dioxin, and other toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers, and cement manufacturing. The American Lung Association noted that allowing these sources to continue unchecked will inflict real harm on Americans, particularly children, seniors, and the sick.
March 6, 2012
This week the Senate could vote on a deadly amendment to the transportation bill that will abolish clean air standards for the 2nd largest source of industrial toxic air pollution in America...

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) has introduced an amendment...[that would] nullify existing protections against mercury and toxic air pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers.
“When it comes to the air we breathe, however, I reject the false choice of pitting the environment against the economy because we understand that for much of the state of Maine, the environment is the economy,” [Sen. Collins] said.
Bizarre, incoherent and utterly contradictory.

Looks like progress!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two Selves

Sen. Collins has lectured the country about civility and cast herself as an unaligned pragmatist, uniquely situated to heal our national political culture.

Earlier this month, she played the role of partisan loyalist, telling the Maine Republican convention:

I stand with each and every one of you as a committed supporter of our outstanding Republican candidates at every level of government, and I will do what it takes to make sure our winning streak continues
Obamacare has more negative side effects than those medications you see advertised on TV.
(She also managed to pass on two misleading claims about the Affordable Care Act, the second of which was clearly phrased to deceive her audience.)

It hasn't been since the junior senator's GOP weekly address in 2010 and before that her speech at the 2008 Maine GOP convention--during which Collins took some shots at Sens. Obama and Clinton (near the top)--that she's indulged in such red meat rhetoric.

And while there's no obvious way to reconcile Collins' fiery partisan speechifying with the non-ideological image she's cultivated in the (obliging) press, in a way, that's the point: Making sense of Collins' impact requires looking beyond her "Maine media" posture and her "GOP audience" posture to evaluate her actions on the merits.

Admittedly, it can be difficult, time consuming and often boring work. But it's a lot better way to figure out what she's up to than listening to her talk.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

NRDC: Collins Amendment "Deadly"

A long, detailed piece from National Resources Defense Council on Sen. Collins' amendment to exempt incinerators and industrial boilers from clean air standards.

Some lowlights:

The amendment...allows indefinite compliance delays by prohibiting EPA from requiring compliance with new standards any "earlier than 5 years" after issuance, and then eliminating the Clean Air Act's firm compliance deadlines and allowing compliance to be delayed by 8 or 10 or 15 years more. This feature alone belies any claim that the Collins amendment simply delays things a few years.

For just the amendment's minimum 3.5 year delay beyond current law, this will result in up to 28,350 more premature deaths, over 17,000 heart attacks, and more than 180,000 cases of asthma attacks


Congress cannot believe that Americans deserve to go unprotected against neurotoxins and carcinogens by allowing the country's 2nd largest industrial source of mercury pollution and other toxins to be subject to periodic tune-ups and maintenance practices, with no pollution control equipment.

That approach would relegate clean air policy to not just the period pre-dating the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments but pre-1970, before that landmark law was adopted. And incinerators and industrial boilers would secure amnesty from health standards that over 100 other industrial sources, including power plants, must meet. (Emphasis added.)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Moderate No More

In a move that substantially undercuts her "social moderate" credentials, Sen. Collins voted earlier today to sustain an amendment by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would give employers the option of refusing to cover any health benefit that violates their professed religious beliefs.

I wrote about the amendment two weeks ago.

Asked for comment, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England's Megan Hannan wrote, via e-mail:

[Collins'] speech said her issue was needing more time, so voting to table it (which was the actual vote) would have given her the time she said she needed...

She should have voted "aye" to table it, she had the "out" to do so, and still she voted for it.

As much as they tried to say it was not, this is very clearly another assault against women and women’s health, and Senator Collins came down on the wrong side.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Collins May Back Blunt Bill

Yesterday, Sen. Collins refused to rule out supporting an amendment sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that would allow bosses to inject themselves into the full range of worker health care choices.

For example, the amendment would allow employers to exclude maternity care for unmarried women if they believe premarital sex is immoral.

And given the sweeping nature of the amendment's "moral convictions" standard, it's hard to see what would prevent your boss from waking up one morning and deciding to drop coverage for end-of-life care, or vaccinations or anything else he'd developed a moral aversion to.

Indeed, it seems likely that companies would be able to whittle coverage down to a few basic services simply on the grounds that someone in charge finds the expense of a more comprehensive plan morally offensive.

One might think that a (nominally) pro-choice, pro-family planning senator would look at this sort of proposal and dismiss it out of hand.

But one would be wrong.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Carve Out

Given all the political developments in Maine in recent days, it's easy to lose track of an important wrinkle in last week's birth control debate, especially since the compromise solution offered by President Obama on Friday seems to have taken much of the air out of critics arguments.

But let's not forget: Nominally pro-choice and pro-family planning Sens. Snowe and Collins are now on record supporting the idea that the religious prerogatives of employers--all employers--extend into the sex lives of their employees. They agree, specifically, that all business owners should have the power to carve birth control coverage out of the health plans of their workers.

If passed, the bill would allow any institution or corporation to cut off birth control coverage simply by citing religious grounds...That means that if the middle-aged white guy who runs your company is religiously opposed to birth control, he can have it stripped out of your insurance plan—even if his Viagra is still covered.
Snowe and Collins supporters will likely point out that both pols are now saying nice things about the President's workaround plan.

But neither senator has withdrawn her support for the language--backed by the leading lights of the pro-life movement--that would inject bosses into the family planning choices of their employees and strip contraception coverage from millions of women.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Birth Control Control

Mike Tipping on Sens. Collins, Snowe and the administration's birth control compromise.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Euphemism Watch

As we congratulate Sen. Collins on her engagement, it'd be a mistake not to draw attention to a telling aspect of the announcement's coverage in the media.

Namely: prominent Maine outlets--uniformly, as far as I know--followed the junior senator's script, referring to fiance Tom Daffron as a "political consultant" and "longtime Senate senior staff member" and a few other things but never as a corporate lobbyist or K Street bigwig. (Yes, his lobbying and consulting shop is located on K Street.)

By contrast, ABC News called a spade a spade.

It's not the most glaring omission made by the Maine press in recent history. But since the Daffron-Collins relationship isn't likely to come in for much scrutiny in the coming months and years, it's an omission worth examining.

First, it's easy to figure out why MPBN chose to call Daffron a "public policy and political consultant" and why Bangor Daily News went with "Senate senior staff member and a consultant." Both outlets ran pieces that seem to lean heavily on a press release. And in the case of BDN, the reporter assigned wasn't someone on the political beat who's likely to be familiar with Daffron's history.

But Portland Press Herald is a different story. Because Washington-based reporter Jonathan Riskind is clearly aware that Daffron is most accurately described as chief operating office of a K Street lobbying and consulting firm with blue-chip clientele. And he knows--or ought to--that Daffron has done lobbying work for corporate clients including defense contractors going all the way back to 2000.

So what does Riskind do with this information? Here's how he introduces Daffron:

Collins, 59, got engaged Sunday to Thomas Daffron, a public policy and political consultant in Washington who was chief of staff to William Cohen when Cohen represented Maine in Congress. (Emphasis added.)
In short, willfully misleading. And in a way clearly designed to minimize the awkwardness of the fact that Collins--ranking member on the Governmental Affairs committee and a member of the Armed Services committee--is marrying a senior official at a firm that's lobbied for Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and other big defense contractors while also winning consulting contracts with the Department of Defense and other government agencies.

Then, as if to insulate himself from the charge that he's been abjectly deferential to Collins and her interest in obscuring the truth, Riskind tucks this pair of sentences in at the bottom of the article:

He is now chief operating officer for Jefferson Consulting Group. The firm does lobbying, but Daffron is not a registered lobbyist.
Got that? Having established at the top of the piece that Daffron--who's been working in lobbying for the last twelve years--is a "political consultant" Riskind owns up to the fact that his subject is "now" Jefferson's COO. And then, as if anticipating a question that hasn't been asked, our intrepid reporter makes sure readers know that Daffron is not himself a lobbyist.

Even though Daffron was lobbying--for Jefferson Consulting Group--just a few years ago.

Look, rewriting Daffron's biography to suit the political interests of his fiancee isn't going to bring down the republic. But make no mistake: This is shilling disguised as reporting. It's an errand run on behalf of powerful people under the guise of good faith "journalism."

When it comes to balancing the interests of his readers and his sources, it's abundantly clear which side Riskind comes down on.

Not pretty, but it is what it is.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Mazel Tov!

Sen. Collins to marry.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mountains, Molehills, Etc.

It's great to see Sen. Collins advocating an evidence-driven approach to evaluating and mitigating health risks to Americans:

[Collins] has repeatedly questioned the use, in particular, of the backscatter X-ray machines, which emit low levels of ionizing radiation...

"As a frequent flyer, I just cannot believe that it is good for people who are traveling every week, or for TSA employees who are operating these machines, to be exposed to ionizing radiation," she told me recently. "I'm not asking for weaker security, but it's almost inevitable that some people are getting stronger doses. Just think about how many machines there are, how many screeners there are. Just think what would happen if the machines weren't properly calibrated."

The TSA has long claimed that the radiation absorbed by a passenger in a backscatter X-ray is equivalent to what he would receive in two minutes of high-altitude flying. In other words, inconsequential. Various TSA officials have also said the dose is roughly the same as the radiation absorbed from eating half a potassium-rich banana, though lately, perhaps fearing the wrath of the banana lobby, officials have dropped this particular comparison.

Collins, citing a recent ProPublica story discussing the small, but not entirely negligible, risk that the scans could cause some fliers to develop cancer, asked TSA Administrator John Pistole to conduct a comprehensive study of the potential hazards.
Still, how does Collins square her concern about the (potentially) small risk posed by the back-scatter machines with her total indifference to much more serious hazards?
In Sen. Collins's home state of Maine, her bill would continue the emission of at least 12,000 pounds of mercury and other toxics from Maine power plants and cement plants. At least 2.6 million pounds of airborne toxics are emitted into Maine's skies every year--or two pounds for every Maine resident.

Sen. Collins's most recent bill continues her yearlong assault on the health and safety of Mainers and other Americans. In February she targeted the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule, which would require facilities with large industrial boilers to reduce their emissions of mercury, lead, and other pollutants that harm our health. These chemicals have proven, damaging effects on the heart, lungs, and brain. By clearing the air of these toxics, the boiler MACT rule would save 2,600 to 6,600 lives per year.
I suspect the different reactions can be explained by the relative power and influence of the companies involved in each issue--the same piece reports, for example, that energy and natural resources companies have contributed over $400,000 to the junior senator since she was elected.

But I wouldn't discount the importance of Collins' introductory clause above:

"As a frequent flyer, I just cannot believe that it is good for people who are traveling every week..."
It's easy for a pol to prioritize concerns about dangers she faces regularly. Looking out for the greater good when there's not much electoral incentive is something else entirely.