The fiscal cliff negotiations presented an opportunity for Mainers and people across the United States to see which members of Congress showed sound judgment. Though their votes weren’t surprising, each person in Maine’s congressional delegation exhibited good sense by voting for the fiscal cliff compromise deal on Tuesday. The larger question is whether they demonstrated leadership at the other times it mattered during preceding debate, when Congress needed examples of rationality.
Sen. Susan Collins certainly has. Through the years, she has consistently remained open to the idea of raising taxes on the wealthy, leaving her, at times, as the only Senate Republican to back certain economic proposals. In November 2011, she broke party ranks by stating her support for requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay more of their income to help reduce the deficit. In April, she was the only Republican to vote in favor of the “Buffett Rule,” which would have required people making $2 million or more each year to pay at least 30 percent in taxes.
On Tuesday. she backed up her previous words and actions and went a step further by voting for a bill that steadies tax levels for most Americans and increases income tax rates for individuals earning $400,000 or more and households earning $450,000 or more. Congress must still deal with drastic spending cuts, which it pushed back two months, and Collins expressed disappointment at the postponement. But she said, ultimately, it was important to prevent an average tax increase of more than $2,000 for Maine families.
Retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe has, in the past, not been afraid to break with her party — she was one of only three GOP senators who voted for the president’s stimulus plan — but she has been more cautious when it comes to raising taxes. In September 2010, in an interview with Politico, she spoke against raising taxes on the top 2 percent. “I think it’s a mistake to draw a line in the sand at $250,000 during these tenuous times,” she said.
But while she hasn’t historically acted as a leading voice on the necessity of tax-rate increases, she has indicated she knows when it’s important to adapt. On Tuesday, she demonstrated the moderate streak that makes her so popular in Maine: She voted for the compromise. The Senate was not likely to cause a problem over the fiscal cliff bill, but it was a fitting vote for Snowe, who will end her 34-year career in Congress on Thursday.
It’s unusual for members of the U.S. House to stand out in terms of leadership — unless, for example, they chair a committee. And Maine’s Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud can’t head committees because they are in the minority party. But they can make clear to their constituents how they plan to vote and why, and they can work in their respective committees to guide area-specific legislation, such as in agriculture and veterans affairs.
Pingree and Michaud have consistently been open to tax increases for the wealthy. In November 2010, they both said they did not support extending tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 per year. During the last few weeks, Pingree has been more vocal about her view of the fiscal cliff negotiations. She said she was “very disappointed that the Republicans couldn’t even pass their own proposal [‘Plan B’] to avoid the fiscal cliff,” and on Dec. 30 she said it was “outrageous” that Congress had gotten so close to going over the cliff. Pingree and Michaud both expressed similar sentiments after the House vote. They lauded the bipartisan compromise, while describing the bill as far from perfect.
Maine’s congressional delegation didn’t have direct negotiating power, but members did have the ability to use their influence to advocate for what is reasonable and right. Though some members made more of a public display than others, they all recognized, unsurprisingly, that inaction would cause economic disaster. They stood on the correct side of history and voted for the compromise.