Snowe, Collins Key Players

Posted July 22, 2010, at 8:20 p.m.

While many people look forward to summer as a time of vacation and lazy days in the sun, Congress has finally gotten busy passing bills that will tighten financial regulations and boost the economy through extended unemployment insurance. Up next is legislation to reduce U.S. reliance on oil and decrease emissions related to climate change.

This work wouldn’t have happened without Maine’s senators — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.

Earlier this month, a bill to extend unemployment benefits fell one vote short of the 60 needed for passage. Democrat Ben Nelson opposed it because he objected to the cost of the extension, saying it will add to the growing national deficit. With the death of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, the measure had only 59 supporters, with Sens. Collins and Snowe the only Republicans voting for it.

Hours after Democrat Carte Goodwin was sworn in as West Virginia’s new senator Tuesday, a vote to move forward with an extension of unemployment benefits through November passed in the Senate. The bill was finally approved in the Senate on Wednesday.

Likewise, Sens. Snowe and Collins played key roles in the financial reform vote. They, along with Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, were again the only Republicans to vote for the measure, which while not perfect, will crack down on some of the abuses that led to the crash of financial markets while creating a consumer financial protection bureau.

“The Senate finally acted in bipartisan fashion to … ensure the continued safety and soundness of the American financial regulatory system,” Sen. Snowe said in a statement. “Indeed, this legislation, which guarantees transparency and accountability and provides vital protections for small businesses and Americans on Main Street from the greedy and reckless Wall Street practices that contributed to this epic economic downturn, will finally empower the federal government with the tools it needs to ensure the failure of a single private institution will not wreak havoc on the world’s financial system and drive the economy into recession.”

Both senators were authors of amendments that improved the bill, including tailoring some provisions to help small businesses and community banks and to require large institutions to have adequate capital to prevent future taxpayer bailouts and to avoid the “too big to fail” problem.

“This legislation will help protect the hard work, the savings and the dreams of the American people,” Sen. Collins wrote in her weekly column. “Honest savers, borrowers and investors deserve a regulatory system suited to demands of modern times, where dangerous regulatory gaps are closed, where large institutions are subject to capital requirements, and where risky transactions are identified and controlled before they pose a threat to the economy as a whole.”

The senators’ leadership will be needed again as the Senate turns its attention to climate change and energy. Sens. Snowe and Collins have taken different approaches to reducing climate change-related pollution and American reliance on oil, but what is important is that they have both long recognized the need to tackle these problems.

Now, they must convince some of their Republican colleagues that not acting to reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel is bad for the American economy, foreign policy, businesses and people.

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