AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has enhanced her ability to influence legislation with her appointment to the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee while retaining her current committee assignments, a move many say will help the state on many important issues before Congress.
“That committee is always a very powerful place for any member of Congress to be,” said University of Maine political science professor Richard Powell, “and even more so right now, given the expected huge government expenditures in terms of the stimulus and the bailout packages.”
Collins said the committee is considered the most powerful because most spending measures must gain its approval. She said service on the committee will take a huge time commitment, but one that is worth it.
“To serve on two of the four most powerful committees in the Senate is an honor,” she said in an interview. “But, it is going to be a lot of work but I am looking forward to it.”
Collins said she was “thrilled” that her GOP colleagues voted unanimously to allow her to serve on Appropriations as well as her existing assignments as ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She is also a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.
“Next Tuesday the Appropriations Committee is going to start marking up the stimulus package bill,” she said, “I am thrilled I will be sitting at the table as that work is being done.”
Powell said it is unusual for a senator to serve on several major committees and said it is a measure of the respect Collins has with her colleagues that she got the additional appointment. He said it adds to the considerable influence she already has as a moderate GOP senator whom majority Democrats need to vote with them to end debate and pass legislation.
“The Republican senators in the middle are going to be critical to the majority party,” he said. “Both of our senators are in a position to play a crucial role.”
Maine’s senior senator, Olympia Snowe, will continue to serve on four committees. They are the Select Committee on Intelligence, which oversees all intelligence activities of the federal government; the Commerce, Science and Technology Committee; the Finance Committee, which deals with taxes, Social Security and health care; and the Small Business Committee.
“It’s great that Maine will have two seats at the table as the stimulus package is worked out.” Collins said, “[Snowe] will be on Finance dealing with the tax matters and I will be on Appropriations.”
Powell said the two senators are serving on some of the most powerful committees in the Senate, in addition to their roles as swing votes on floor action. He said that is certainly good news for issues of importance to the state.
Collins said when you look at the committee assignments for all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation, they are collectively in a “great position” to advocate for issues important to Maine.
Rep. Chellie Pingree is on the House Armed Services Committee and the Rules Committee. Rep. Mike Michaud serves on the House Transportation Committee and Veterans Committee.
Collins’ appointment drew praise from Michaud, who said it is “very positive” news for Maine. He said her new committee assignment will help the entire delegation in its efforts to get appropriations for measures important to the state.
“She will be in a strong position to advocate for funding that will benefit the people of our state,” he said in a statement. “Her new position will be valuable in the annual fight for adequate LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] dollars and funding priorities important to Maine, like the economic development commission we passed into law last year.”
The appointment also was praised by University of Maine President Robert Kennedy, who said it reflects her status as a leader in Congress and the respect that she has earned nationally.
“This is exciting news and I congratulate Sen. Collins on this appointment,” he said in a statement.
Several Mainers have served on the panel over its history, the last being U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith. The first chairman of the committee when it was formed in 1867 was U.S. Sen. Lot Morrill. The original committee had only seven members. Now it is the Senate’s largest committee with 29 members.