Collins blasts health care bill in Bangor

U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) approaches the lectern as the featured speaker during Bangor Rotary Club's weekly Tuesday luncheon meeting at Wellman Commons in Bangor December, 29, 2009. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
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U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) approaches the lectern as the featured speaker during Bangor Rotary Club's weekly Tuesday luncheon meeting at Wellman Commons in Bangor December, 29, 2009. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS
Posted Dec. 29, 2009, at 7:42 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The landmark health care bill passed last week by the U.S. Senate but opposed by every Republican senator was written behind closed doors, riddled with sweetheart deals and does little to rein in insurance costs, according to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“Other than that, it’s a great bill,” Collins said Tuesday during a speech to the Rotary Club of Bangor, something she typically does at least once every year.

The senator used this year’s opportunity to rail against the Democratic health care bill, update Mainers on her concerns over the recent attempted terrorist attacks, and praise legislation that lifted interstate truck weight limits.

“This has been a great year, one of both pride and great frustration,” she told a crowd of nearly 1,000 Rotarians and guests at Wellman Commons on the former Bangor Theological Seminary campus.

On the positive side, Collins said the country made great strides in 2009 in the area of energy independence. She specifically mentioned offshore wind, an area where Maine has tremendous potential.

Collins also lauded a pilot project she pushed heavily for that exempts heavy trucks from federal weight restrictions on interstate highways. She has worked on that issue for the entire decade and said she fought highway safety groups every step of the way.

“I hope to make it a permanent change,” she said.

Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, talked briefly about the attempted terrorist attack on an overseas flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

“It was a reminder that terrorist threats are still very real,” she said. “But for a faulty detonator and the bravery of passengers and crew members, 300 people would have lost their lives on Christmas Day.”

Collins said she was flying back to Washington, D.C., Tuesday night for a briefing with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials. She and Senate colleague Joe Lieberman of Connecticut will convene a hearing in January to ask questions about airline security, specifically about checking passenger lists more closely with databases and using better screening technology.

But most of Collins’ 20-minute speech on Tuesday in Bangor was devoted to her frustration with the health care debate and the resulting bills, a process she said was fundamentally flawed.

“I believe that health care needs to be reformed. The status quo is not acceptable,” she said. “But that’s why I’m so disappointed, because the Senate passed a partisan bill that failed to address the biggest concerns.”

She said among her biggest concerns was that senators did not have enough time to consider the bill, which included dozens of amendments. She also criticized Democrats for offering deals to supporters, something she called “cash for cloture.” Finally, she said the bill as proposed does not do enough to temper insurance costs and offers fewer health care options for Americans.

A House and Senate conference committee will meet next month to combine each chamber’s version of health care reform. Once a combined bill is formed, the House and Senate will vote again, but Collins said she likely would not support whatever comes out of committee.

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