Collins, Snowe lock out constituents on stimulus bill

Posted Feb. 22, 2009, at 5:34 p.m.

On behalf of my four grandchildren — who ultimately will bear the burden of paying for the stimulus bill — I want to express my profound disgust with the enabling role Maine’s U.S. senators played in ramming this hideous piece of legislation through Congress.

This is the second time they’ve done this to us. Remember the bank bailout legislation last fall? The same people (Rep. Barney Frank, Sen. Chris Dodd, et al) who previously had told us that nothing was wrong with the subprime mortgage market suddenly began screeching that the financial system was on the verge of collapse. We were told that Congress must act immediately to prevent a meltdown of the banking system and a worldwide depression.

A 10-page piece of bailout legislation was hastily drafted and introduced. By the time the Senate finished with it, the bill had metastasized to more than 400 pages larded with custom-cut morsels of pork totally unrelated to the banking crisis but deemed necessary to buy the votes of House members whose support was needed for final passage. Both of Maine’s senators voted for the steaming pile of pork pie, as did Sen. John McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama.

Five months later, it’s clear that the bank bailout is an embarrassing and monumental failure. Credit markets are still frozen, the stock market is still in the toilet, and the recipient banks can’t even account for how the hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout funds were spent. All we know for sure is that the public was over-whelmingly opposed to the bank bailout, and that it passed by back-slapping bipartisan majorities without a single public hearing.

Fast forward to January 2009. There’s a new sheriff in town, a transformational figure who promised to turn the page on how business is done in Washington. Barack Obama pledged during the campaign to “end the practice of writing legislation behind closed doors,” and “to require all legislative sessions, including committee markups and conference committees, to be conducted in public.”

Instead, the stimulus bill was muscled through Congress without a single public hearing.

This is the biggest spending bill in American history, with expenditures roughly equal to the amount of all U.S. currency in circulation. Given the mind-numbing cost of the legislation, and the staggering debt we are piling on future generations of Americans, why didn’t Sens. Snowe and Collins insist on public hearings before casting a vote? They certainly could have; in effect, they held veto power over the legislation. Without their votes, the bill would have died in the Senate by way of a filibuster. At minimum, Snowe and Collins could have leveraged a deal that was truly aimed at stimulus, not massive expansion of government.

Instead, our senators actually helped bar the door to public participation. In perhaps the single most brazen instance of mass disenfranchisement in recent memory, they gave their blessing to the anti-democratic process that birthed a monstrous 1,100-page legislative pork barrel cobbled together behind closed doors by a select group of politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists.

In fact, the authors of the legislation went to extraordinary lengths to make sure the public was kept in the dark. The final language that was posted online just before midnight Thursday, Feb. 12 was still full of hand-written annotations and markups, making it impossible for researchers to generate fully searchable online versions of the bill. Most of the document files were posted in such a way that no searchable text could be generated before the final House and Senate votes.

Make no mistake about what happened here. Collins and Snowe just slapped us across the face, telling us in no uncertain terms that we are incapable of self-government, and too stupid to grasp the complexities of the legislative process.

As long as they remain in office, we need to remind them at every opportunity that we have had enough of their back-room deals, and that we will not allow them to sell our children and grandchildren into financial bondage.

Lawrence E. Lockman lives in the Hancock County town of Amherst. His e-mail address is larrylockman@rivah.net

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