PORTLAND, Maine — Sen. Olympia Snowe decried the state of politics and pushed what she called her “three pillars of an economic agenda for watershed change in America,” at a business breakfast meeting Friday.
Those pillars are budget reform, tax reform and regulatory reform, the Maine Republican told a crowd of about 450 gathered for the Portland Regional Chamber’s Eggs and Issues breakfast.
Snowe said the nation is at a tipping point, a consequential moment where either action will determine if the country moves forward “to become the nation we want to be” or failure to act will prolong the poor economy.
“We can no longer afford the policies and politics of the status quo. We can no longer afford the political paralysis that is affecting Washington,” Snowe said.
Economic growth has been stagnant, the country has historic debt and a new report has China surpassing the United States economically in 2016, she said. She pointed to another report that suggested the country hasn’t created one net new full-time job in the last three years.
“This isn’t the American people’s vision of America; it’s not your vision and it’s certainly not my vision,” Snowe said.
Snowe is up for re-election next year, and her talk had the tenor and feel of a stump speech. Throughout her speech, she took issue with the political leadership in Washington.
Asked by a high school student in the audience what she thought about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has gained momentum around the country, Snowe said it was a manifestation of people’s frustration with the political process.
After last year’s elections, she said, Congress should have come together, worked out differences and worked to stabilize the economy. That didn’t happen, she said.
“It’s now erupted into protests. That should be a message to us, that we’ve got to get to work,” she said.
Snowe, along with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, 44 other GOP senators and two Democratic senators, voted earlier this week to kill the White House’s $447 billion jobs bill.
Senate Republicans introduced their own jobs plan Thursday. The legislation would overhaul the country’s tax laws, cut regulation and increase offshore oil exploration. The plan also would repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.
On the rejected jobs bill, Snowe said the Senate was given no opportunity to work on it through amendments and come up with a compromise. Introducing it in such a way was done for political reasons, she said.
Snowe on Friday pushed a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget. It came close to passing in 1997, she said, when the national debt was only $4.3 trillion. It now stands at $14.7 trillion, she said. Such an amendment would bind Congress, and future Congresses, to balancing the budget, she said.
Snowe noted that opponents have called such an amendment a gimmick.
“If it’s a gimmick, Congress would have passed it long ago,” said Snowe. “Obviously, they knew it wasn’t a gimmick.”
On regulatory reform, Snowe said the current regulations are “an albatross around this economy.” Legislation she has introduced to strengthen laws that require federal agencies to consider the impact of regulations on small businesses was blocked by Congressional leadership, she said.
And on tax reform, Snowe noted that the United States had the second highest corporate tax rate in the industrial world. That is keeping capital investments out of the country in this global economy, she said.
Snowe said she supported a progressive tax structure, rather than a flat tax, but suggested the current code is a “labyrinthian monster.”
In a written response to Snowe’s talk, Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said Snowe was “merely regurgitating GOP talking points,” and was “completely out of touch with the struggles and concerns of middle-class Mainers and Americans.”
“Right now Mainers are in desperate need for good jobs. They are demanding that our leaders represent all of us, not just the richest 1 percent. They are literally marching in the streets,” said Grant. “Yet, Sen. Snowe is defending Wall Street, deregulation, and tax breaks for the ultra wealthy. She’s working in lock step with Tea Party Republicans in Washington who care more about sabotaging the president than putting Americans back to work.”