Doing What is Right

Posted Aug. 06, 2010, at 6:26 p.m.

Twice in one week, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have set aside demands from their party leaders to obstruct anything that could be construed as a Democratic victory and taken courageous stands that will benefit Maine and the country.

On Wednesday, the senators were the only Republicans to vote to move ahead with legislation that will send needed money to Maine and other states. Passage of the additional funding for Medicaid and education could help avert state layoffs and health care cuts, which could further raise unemployment and cut short the nascent economic recovery.

Another $116 million will be coming to Maine. This isn’t extra money for the state coffers. Rather, the $77 million in higher Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP, payments will help plug a hole in the state budget. The hole was left when lawmakers assumed spring votes in Congress to extend the higher medical assistance percentage payments meant that the money would be forthcoming before the state fiscal year started on July 1.

Another $39 million is meant to avert teacher layoffs.

“We understand that, as our national and state economies continue to struggle, a further extension of the enhanced FMAP is necessary to help states protect against further job losses as the economy slowly turns around,” Sens. Snowe and Collins said in a statement after the vote.

Rather than this practical approach, their Republican colleagues sought to stall — or kill — the legislation because they said they were concerned about adding to the deficit. Concerns about the growing budget deficit are understandable. But some government spending is necessary to ensure that the slow, ongoing economic recovery continues. Further, forcing states and health care entities to lay off employees will surely depress consumer spending leading to a longer recession and a worse budget deficit.

In addition, the cost of the bill, which was reduced by nearly $8 billion before this week’s vote, was offset by cuts elsewhere, including to the food stamp program.

Sen. Snowe called on House leaders to reconvene that chamber to quickly vote on the bill — the House had passed a different version and is now in recess — so that the additional funding can be available before the new school year starts. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would do this.

Also on Wednesday, Sen. Collins spoke on the Senate floor in support of President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. She spoke of her disagreement with some of Ms. Kagan’s positions, such as on gun rights. However, the senator said, what is more important is the former solicitor general and law school dean’s qualifications and respect for precedent.

“Based on my review of Ms. Kagan’s record, my assessment of her character, and my belief in her promise to adhere to precedent, Ms. Kagan warrants confirmation to our nation’s highest court,” Sen. Collins said.

Sen. Snowe said last week that she would vote for Ms. Kagan’s nomination.

“I find that Ms. Kagan has met [the] standard with the strong intellect, respect for the rule of law, and understanding of the important but limited role of the Supreme Court that I believe is required of any justice,” she said last week.

Ms. Kagan’s nomination was approved by the Senate Thursday by a vote of 63-37; five Republicans supported her confirmation.

Last month, Sens. Snowe and Collins were the only Republicans to vote for an extension of unemployment benefits and two of three Republicans to support financial reform legislation, both of which will help working families in Maine and other states.

These principled stands, in the face of scorn from their GOP colleagues, are too rare in Washington, but are expected — and appreciated — from Maine’s senators.

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