Susan Collins masquerades as moderate

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, masquerading as a “moderate,” is behaving like a reckless Republican ideologue. Her political charade during the government shutdown and debt crisis helped push the world’s economy to the brink of catastrophe. It is imperative that we unmask her actions, but, with a couple notable exceptions this month, Maine’s media has furthered the fiction that Collins is a reasonable, responsible lawmaker by glossing over her hypocrisies and painting her as a model of bipartisanship when, in fact, her loyalty to party over people has worsened the crisis she purported to try to solve.

On Oct. 2, Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz stepped up and called Collins’ bluff. He pointed out that though the senator said she strongly opposed House Republican efforts to link the funding of the government to the defunding of Obamacare, she then voted, twice, against measures that would have removed those conditions from the spending resolution to keep the government open.

The senator’s spokesman, Kevin Kelley, made an attempt to explain this hypocrisy by telling Nemitz that Collins would support a spending bill with no Obamacare strings attached if the House sent such a resolution to the Senate. In other words, Collins is opposed to removing budget amendments that she opposes. If that makes sense to you, seek medical help immediately (provided you have insurance).

Two days later, Kelley made a feeble attempt to fire back in an OpEd titled, “Nemitz column insults senator’s record of bipartisanship.” He boasted that Collins was in favor of allowing the Senate to vote on the spending bill that included the Obamacare provisions — as if simply allowing a vote is an act of bipartisan heroism these days — but made no reference whatsoever to the fact she then voted twice to block the removal of the Obamacare amendments she supposedly didn’t want in the bill.

Shortly after that, Collins unveiled a plan to restart the government and postpone a debt default that included — surprise! — a significant amendment to Obamacare: a two-year delay of a tax on medical equipment intended to raise nearly $30 billion over the next decade to help provide health insurance to more Americans. To offset that loss of revenue, Collins proposed to expand a “pension smoothing” provision that allows companies to contribute less money toward their workers’ retirement accounts, at least in the short term. Because companies get a tax deduction for making those contributions, the government stands to collect more tax money when corporations contribute less to workers’ pensions — again, at least for a few years, until the companies have to contribute more money than they did before to make up for the short-term reduction.

Most media outlets covered this convoluted shell game of a plan with a straight face or, worse, presented it as evidence that Collins had crafted a moderate, bipartisan solution to a crisis the extreme elements in her party created. This time, political scientist and BDN contributor Amy Fried called Collins’ bluff.

Fried noted that Collins’ “moderate” plan is essentially a huge corporate tax break. Though touted as a “temporary” delay, if you think the medical-device tax would be reinstated two years from now, you should change the batteries in the medical device that controls your brain. Fried cited analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that shows the “pension smoothing” proposal could never offset the long-term loss of medical-device-tax revenue.

Collins wants Maine voters to give her credit for working on a compromise to a crisis she personally worsened. The bottom line is, she should have voted to reopen the government when she had a chance to do so with no strings attached. Instead, she fell in line with every other senator in her party to prolong the shutdown, then provided a nonsensical explanation for her vote, followed by a “bipartisan” solution that would benefit corporations at the expense of the poor — a plan party leaders ultimately rejected on the eve of economic destruction.

And let’s not forget that Collins has done all this because she wants to repeal the market-based health care law, largely based on Republican principles and passed with bipartisan support, before it’s had a chance to help people. She has pandered to tea party extremists in a craven bid to save her own political skin, while her constituents suffer real economic pain. A truly moderate, bipartisan lawmaker would work with colleagues in both parties to improve Obamacare and mitigate any negative effects it may or may not cause in the future, not try to kill the law of the land and drag our government and the world’s economy down with it.

Chris Busby

About Chris Busby

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard, a monthly magazine about Portland. He writes a weekly column for the BDN.