Voices inside the beltway were buzzing again this past week about Sen. Susan Collins's role as an aisle-crossing beacon of bipartisan dealmaking, with the narrative crafted mostly around her comments and supposed efforts on the minimum wage issue.
We pay much less attention to this type of chatter than we used to and it's worth reiterating why: Particularly on the most salient topics of the day, there's often a large gap between Collins's words and actions--between what she professes to believe and what she's actually willing to do.
We've seen this on climate change, with Collins saying the right things and voting to advance a serious proposal right before the 2008 election when it had no chance of passing only to abandon ship once the prospects for reform become real.
And we saw it with the Obama health care proposal, when Collins told voters during the 2008 campaign that she thought his plan was "pretty good" and was open to supporting it--only to fight it tooth and nail once she won reelection.
Collins's willingness to talk out of both sides of her mouth on these issues and others makes the job of reporters harder; it forces them to peel back the rhetorical facade and to do the boring, difficult work of sifting through her actual record in office if they want to get at the truth.
For a mix of reasons including journalist time constraints, Collins's branding and the stake that the DC press corps has in sustaining the "moderate narrative" such digging rarely happpens. And so we get the kind of coverage we saw last week.
But on the minimum wage in particular, it's easier than usual to see that Collins is playacting rather than looking for actual solutions--that she's guilty of the very political point-scoring approach that she professes to be combating. All you have to do is look at her proposal.
Specifically, Collins is trying to tie even a modest minimum wage hike to an Obamacare "fix" that would add $140 billion to the federal debt over ten years, cost 1 million Americans their job-based health coverage and leave 500,000 fewer Americans insured.
It's pretty safe to say that such a proposal--completely unrelated to the minimum wage itself--counts as a poison pill in the current political context. And so it's not the sort of thing you'd try to tack onto a wage hike if you were truly animated by a concern for improving the lot of the working poor.
On the other hand, it's exactly the kind of plan you'd propose appending if you were facing a surprisingly vigorous challenge and your main concern was to make a show of attempting compromise in order to win praise from beltway pundits--without actually moving the ball forward.
On that score, Collins's efforts have been an unmitigated success.