Collins defends stance on stimulus, expresses concern with budget size

Posted April 09, 2009, at 11:58 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Sen. Susan Collins on Thursday discussed her role in crafting a compromise on the economic stimulus package but reiterated her concerns about the size of President Obama’s budget proposal.

Speaking at a Bangor business breakfast, Collins also discussed the thorny issue of earmarks, the Maine delegation’s approach on lifting truck weight limits on Interstate 95, and her impressions of the Obama administration so far.

“I’m a little worried that he is trying to tackle too many huge issues at once, and if I were he, I would be focusing like a laser on the economy,” Collins told the crowd at Husson University.

Collins said some of the critics of her vote in support of the $787 billion stimulus package have suggested that she should have voted no and instead joined her Republican colleagues in a filibuster to force additional changes.

But Collins showed no signs of regret at the pivotal role she played in negotiating a package able to pick up the three Republican votes needed to get it out of the Senate. Maine’s senior senator, Republican Olympia Snowe, also voted for the stimulus bill.

“’Just say no’ is a wonderful slogan when it comes to fight drug abuse, but it falls far short to being a solution to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Collins said. She criticized Democratic leaders in the House, however, for shutting out Republicans and called the party-line vote in that chamber unfortunate.

The three-term senator credited Obama for his personal involvement in the stimulus issue. Collins said she had been to the Oval Office on multiple occasions for meetings with Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but numerous aides and staff members were always in the room as well. Obama met personally with Collins to discuss the stimulus plan.

“For a half-hour, it was just the president and I talking one-on-one about the economic stimulus plan,” she said.

On the issue of the president’s 10-year budget, however, Collins predicted that Obama’s plan would create a dangerous situation of ballooning national debt. She said the budget contains “massive expansion of the government” with no attempt to reduce wasteful spending or reform entitlement programs.

Asked by audience members about congressional “pet projects” known as earmarks inserted into budget bills, Collins said there are good and bad earmarks but she believes the key issue is transparency. She gave the example of earmarks she helped secure for University of Maine researchers who developed composite blast shields that can be installed in the tents of soldiers deployed in war zones.

She also said Maine’s congressional delegation would continue to push for Congress to lift the 80,000-pound weight limit that forces loaded tractor-trailers to detour from I-95 onto local roads. Collins and Snowe plan to reintroduce legislation on the issue upon returning after recess.

On the issue of Obama’s track record so far, Collins credited the president for his outreach to the public and for fostering a collaborative approach with Republicans.

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