BANGOR, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she’s relatively confident her bill to permanently allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds on Maine interstate highways will pass next week.
But she won’t sleep well until the deal is done, the Maine Republican told members of the Bangor Daily News editorial board during a meeting Friday morning.
Next week is critical for the truck weights bill, which Collins and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced in January. The bill has met heavy opposition from national highway safety groups that “are just against heavy trucks, period,” Collins said.
Heavy trucks using highly traveled main roads and residential streets in towns endanger drivers and pedestrians, the senator said. The frequent stopping, slowing and accelerating of big trucks increases carbon emissions and decreases fuel efficiency, she said.
If the bill passes, it will go a long way toward improving safety on Maine’s secondary roads, she said, adding that every state public safety group she has talked to supports the proposal to allow heavy trucks to use Maine’s highways statewide.
“I’m pretty confident that we will get the bill passed on Tuesday night, with the truck weights language intact,” she said.
Collins also spoke about the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread to cities across the nation, saying it has drawn the government’s attention.
“I believe that there is tremendous anger and frustration in this country,” Collins said. “It worries me because it shows that people don’t believe the government is responsive to them.”
She understands this anger, she said, and she signed the Dodd-Frank bill in the hopes that the regulations it provided would stem future irresponsible financial practices.
“The reckless behavior of certain individuals who made obscene amounts of money on Wall Street really does anger you,” she said.
Those frustrations are spurred on by the nation’s unemployment woes.
Collins said Congress has been slow to act at a time when 14 million Americans are out of the job.
“I don’t think either side right now really wants a solution, and that’s discouraging when so many people are unemployed,” she said.
Collins has opposed the $447 billion jobs plan proposed by President Barack Obama, but said she agrees with some ideas, such as an infrastructure package and the continuation of payroll tax deductions.
The more controversial parts of the bill have caused her and her colleagues to hold back, she said. She would like to see the more agreeable parts of the proposal pulled out to be considered on a piecemeal basis.
“That would build momentum and help foster an environment where we could work to reach a compromise on the parts we don’t agree on,” Collins said.
Part of the solution for Maine’s unemployment problems should be job training programs boosted by small amounts of federal funding, she said.
Collins cited earmarks in 2004 and 2005 that bought Kennebec Valley Community College $550,000 worth of radiology equipment for the Radiologic and Nursing Training Program, which the school wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, Collins said.
Since that program started, dozens of students have graduated and started high-demand jobs in health care at relatively small cost to the government, she said.
Collins also discussed a recent trip to Turkey and Jordan, where she spoke at the World Economic Forum about the role women and young people play in emerging Middle East democracies.
“There have been many studies that show that countries that fully empower women have lower unemployment rates,” Collins said. “They have more prosperous economies; they don’t shelter terrorist groups; they just do better from every measure.”
Collins described several conversations she had with world leaders during her visit overseas.
The senator, who has been a stalwart proponent of national security, said she met with Mahmoud Jibril, acting prime minister of the Transitional National Council in Libya.
She said she asked Jibril how he planned on dealing with multiple militia groups that are vying for control in Libya since the death of Muammar Gadhafi.
“I was shocked by his response,” Collins said. “He said he was going to resign because he couldn’t get control.”
One of these militia groups is led by an Islamic extremist, and eastern parts of the country have had ties with al-Qaida, Collins said. If the wrong group were to take over, national security could be at risk, she said.
More worrisome is the fact that some of Libya’s stockpile of 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles have gone missing, the senator said.
These weapons — if they got into the wrong hands — could be used to shoot down civilian aircraft, Collins said.
The senator argued that the United States should send a small contingent of special forces troops to Libya to help inspectors track down weapons that have gone missing from the Libyan arsenal.