BANGOR, Maine — Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was watching her fellow senators throw “partisan grenades” at each other on day five of the government shutdown, when she decided she’d heard enough.
“My staff, too, had been furloughed,” she said at a press conference held at Husson University on Thursday, the day the 16-day government shutdown ended. “I started writing a plan that could move us forward. I marched down to the Senate Floor where I challenged my colleagues to work together.
“Shortly after my speech, my phone began to ring,” she said.
Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski was the first senator to call, followed closely by New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, another Republican. Others followed suit.
“I love it that the women of the Senate led the way out of this impasse,” Collins said.
Led by the Maine senator, a bipartisan group of 14 senators — six of them women — laid the groundwork needed for the federal fiscal plan signed into law early Thursday to end the 2½-week government shutdown, Collins said.
“Seven Democrats, including Angus King because he caucuses with the Democrats, and seven Republicans” worked together to create a plan that would fund the government, pay the country’s debts and urge Senate and House budget committees to come up with a longer-term plan, said Collins, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996.
“The elements of our plan provided the foundation for the eventual culmination,” she said. “I am optimistic that we have put into place a framework to prevent this crisis [from happening again] in January. That is why those budget provisions are absolutely essential.”
The Congressional budget committees are tasked with creating a comprehensive budget plan to not only operate the government but also address the country’s $17 trillion debt.
“It’s been nearly five years since we’ve had a budget,” Collins said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced the fiscal agreement on the Senate floor on Wednesday to fund the government through Jan. 15, pay debts until Feb. 7, and give budget committees until Dec. 13 to come up with a long-term budget plan. The temporary deal also requires income verification for those enrolled in subsidy programs under the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic-led Senate passed the measure, 81-18, and the Republican-controlled House followed suit with a 285-144 vote, and President Barack Obama signed it into law shortly after midnight.
“The 14 of us have decided we will stay together as a group to keep the pressure on,” Collins said.
The longtime Maine senator stayed in Washington until after the short-term funding plan was signed into law.
“There was a huge sigh of relief. People felt we had finally come together and did the right thing for the American people,” Collins said.
She said she hopes the Republicans “learned from this experience” and also scolded the president for his unwillingness to compromise in regards to the Affordable Care Act.
“You can’t solve problems if you’re not talking,” the Maine Senator said.
At the end of the conference, Collins said she was extremely happy to be home. She said the closure of Acadia National Park is a perfect example of why “this shutdown should never have happened.”
“It hurt all the small businesses in the area and that is plain wrong,” Collins said. “Especially since it’s going to end up costing the government more than if we were up and running.”
Reuters contributed to this story.