Once again, the Democratic majority is courting Maine’s two senators for help in passing a pending bill, this one to overhaul and tighten regulation of the financial system.
Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins stand nearly alone in the poisonous atmosphere of a polarized Senate in which bipartisanship has almost vanished. They more than most of their Republican colleagues have sometimes broken ranks and voted with the Democrats.
An early example of their independent mindedness was their vote in 1999 to acquit President Bill Clinton when the House of Representatives had impeached him and Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to convict him.
Last year, Maine’s senators, joined by then-Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, supplied the key votes necessary to pass the $787 billion economic stimulus package to help employment and end the recession.
In February, they joined three other Republican senators, newly elected Scott Brown of Massachusetts, George Voinovich of Ohio and Kit Bond of Missouri, in voting to avoid a filibuster that would have killed a jobs package that eventually passed.
Most recently, they voted to break a Republican filibuster and move forward the bill that extended unemployment insurance. They and two other Republicans, Sen. Brown and Sen. Voinovich of Ohio, joined most of the Democrats for a successful 60-34 vote to bring the measure to the floor.
In the current Senate struggle over financial regulatory reform, Republican leaders are following their standard strategy of trying to muster lockstep unanimity against any proposal by President Barack Obama and the Democrats. The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, finally succeeded last week in getting all 41 Senate Republicans to sign a letter opposing the present bill and calling for a delay and negotiation of bipartisan terms. Sen. Collins was the last to sign it, after resisting for a few days.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with Sens. Snowe and Collins on Monday but apparently failed to enlist their support for the bill. The New York Times quoted Sen. Collins as saying that she remained opposed and wanted more time for lawmakers to work out an agreement. The Wall Street Journal quoted Sen. Snowe as indicating that she could vote for a Democratic motion to begin debating the bill: “I’m always willing to be the only Republican if it’s the right thing. It’s important to do the right thing in this. Hopefully, we can get the bipartisan support to do it at the outset.”
Both of Maine’s senators have frequently broken ranks and voted for cloture against their leaders’ drive for filibusters. A Washington Post data bank on Senate votes shows that Sen. Snowe has voted with her party only 65.9 percent of the time in the current session. Sen. Collins’ ratio was 65.3 percent.
Republicans are not the only senators who practice solidarity. Several Democrats are shown as voting 100 percent with their party. The first 39 on the list are all Democrats, with better than 90 percent of their votes with their party.
Moving the financial reform bill forward is another time when the senators should break with their party.