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“Opossum Republicans”: Olympia Snowe’s Stunning Surprise

When prominent members of Congress are considering retirement, there’s nearly always some kind of hint in advance of the announcement. Maybe they stop raising money; perhaps they’re slow to put a campaign organization together; maybe key staffers are seen moving to new jobs elsewhere; something.

But with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, all of the evidence pointed in the other direction. Not only were there no hints about a pending departure, the Republican senator gave every indication of seeking another term, even moving considerably to the right.

It’s what made Snowe’s retirement announcement late yesterday such a stunning surprise.

“As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate. I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.”

There are a few angles to a story like this. First, in terms of the electoral consequences, Snowe’s announcement is a brutal setback for Republican plans to retake the Senate majority next year. As Steve Kornacki explained, “With Snowe in it, Democrats had virtually no chance of winning the Maine Senate race this year. Now they are likely to do so, given the state’s partisan bent.”

Second, I can’t help but wonder how much Snowe regrets her shift to the right, taking positions she never would have adopted earlier in her career.

Consider just the last few months. In October, she partnered with a right-wing Alabama senator to push a plan to make the legislative process even more difficult.  A week earlier, she demanded the administration act with “urgency” to address the jobs crisis, only to filibuster a popular jobs bill a day later. The week before that, Snowe prioritized tax cuts for millionaires over job creation. Shortly before that, Snowe tried to argue that  government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the  nation’s finances, which is a popular line among conservatives, despite being completely wrong.

There can be little doubt that Snowe has been Congress’ most moderate Republican for the last several years, but that doesn’t change the fact that as her party moved sharply to the right, she moved with it. Indeed, no matter how extreme the GOP became in recent years, Snowe simply kept her head down, going along with the crowd. When David Brooks complains about “Opossum Republicans,” he might as well have been referring to the senior senator from Maine.

And third, there’s the mystery surrounding what, exactly, led to yesterday’s announcement.

Snowe’s retirement wasn’t just a surprise; it’s practically bizarre. After three terms in the Senate, and giving every indication of seeking re-election, Olympia Snowe waited until two weeks before Maine’s filing deadline to bow out, and didn’t even tell her staff until yesterday afternoon. It all happened so quickly, the senator’s office hasn’t even posted her announcement online yet.

The news doesn’t appear to have been planned at all.

What’s more, Snowe’s statement is a little cryptic. Instead of the obligatory “spend more time with my family” rhetoric, the senator references “unique opportunities … outside the United States Senate.” What opportunities? She didn’t say.

Jon Chait’s theory may sound silly, but it’s a strange year and ideas that may seem foolish at first blush probably shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

This sounds exactly like the kind of rhetoric emanating from Americans Elect, the third-party group that believes that both parties should put aside partisanship and come together to enact an ever-so-slightly more conservative version of Barack Obama’s agenda. Moderate retiring senators often deliver lofty, vacuous paeans to bipartisanship on their way to a lucrative lobbying career. But Snowe’s statement seems unusually specific (“unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the United States Senate”) about her intent to do something.

This strikes me as unlikely, but I guess it’s something to keep an eye on.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 29, 2012

February 29, 2012 Posted by | Right Wing, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Deficit-Exploding”: Mitt Romney’s Fantasy Tax Cuts

Let’s take a trip back to 1992. Then-Gov. Bill  Clinton, in his campaign manifesto, said: “Middle-class taxpayers will have a choice between a children’s tax credit or a significant reduction in their  income tax rate.”

By February 1993, President  Clinton’s position on a middle class tax cut had morphed into this:

Before I ask the middle class to pay, I’m going to ask the wealthiest Americans and companies, who made money in the ’80s and had their taxes cut, to pay their fair share. And I’m going to cut more government spending. But I cannot tell you that I won’t ask you to make any contribution to the changes we have to make.

To justify the reversal, Clinton cited a budget deficit that was $50 billion larger than what he thought it was before the election. Fast forward to today.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney has pledged to cut income tax rates by 20 percent for every American, not just the middle class. He has also embraced Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan, which  would convert the program from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme.

David Frum  sighs:

Romney emerges from Michigan committed not only to the Ryan plan, but also to a 20 percent cut in tax rates, above and beyond his prior  commitment to making the Bush tax cuts permanent. …That’s not the race I’m sure Romney intended to run. But it will be hard to change now.

Yes, hard to change now—and  impossible to realize once in office.

Such deficit-exploding  tax cuts will never become law. Romney—a sane man—already knows this. There  will be no need for Clintonian “evolution.” And, especially if the Senate remains under Democratic control, the odds for which increased with Sen. Olympia  Snowe’s surprise retirement announcement, the Ryan plan stands little chance of even reaching President Romney’s desk.

To review: Mitt Romney has set  himself up to (ahem) severely disappoint conservatives who already suspect his ideological convictions.

As I see it, Romney could blunt this backlash-in-the-making by picking up the pieces of last year’s aborted  Grand Bargain. There is a solid  left-right consensus on  raising badly-needed federal revenue by reigning in the billions we  spend through the tax code. Pair reduction in tax expenditures with modest entitlement reforms and you can see at least the lineaments of  restored budget sanity.

This is probably the best outcome our political system can manage these days.

The question is, as president, would Mitt Romney be able to sell it to conservatives who don’t trust him?


By: Scott Galupo, U. S. News and World Report, February 29, 2012

February 29, 2012 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Republican Women Senators Breaking Ranks With Party, Come Out In Favor Of Obama Contraception Rule

While GOP senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged to fight the Obama’s administration’s modified regulation requiring health insurers and busnisses to offer contraception coverage without additional cost sharing, the revised rule “appears to have won over” two of the five Republican women senators.

Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME) and Susan Collins (ME) — both of whom have sponsored legislation requiring insurers to offer contraception benefits in all health plans — are in favor of the new compromise, which would allow religiously affiliated colleges, universities, and hospitals to avoid providing birth control. Their employees will still receive contraception coverage at no additional cost sharing directly from the insurer:

It appears that changes have been made that provide women’s health services without compelling Catholic organizations in particular to violate the beliefs and tenets of their faith,” Snowe said in a statement. “According to the Catholic Health Association, the administration ‘responded to the issues [they] identified that needed to be fixed,’ which is what I urged the president to do in addressing this situation.

“While I will carefully review the details of the president’s revised proposal, it appears to be a step in the right direction,” Collins said in a statement. “The administration’s original plan was deeply flawed and clearly would have posed a threat to religious freedom.  It presented the Catholic Church with its wide-ranging social, educational, and health care services, and many other faith-based organizations, with an impossible choice between violating their religious beliefs or violating federal regulations. The administration has finally listened to the concerns raised by many and appears to be seeking to avoid the threat to religious liberties posed by its original plan.”

Republicans in the senate seem determined to oppose the compromise and have introduced legislation that would allow employers or individuals to opt out of any benefit that undermines their moral beliefs. “They don’t have the authority under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution to tell someone in this country or some organization in this country what their religious beliefs are,” McConnell told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “This issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down,” he said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), who led the GOP’s opposition to the original rule, has yet to issue a statement on the measure and did not respond to ThinkProgress’ query about her position. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) also did not respond. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) co-sponsored a 1999 bill requiring contraception equity in insurance coverage and has not yet to weigh in on the current debate.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 13, 2012

February 13, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hypocrisy: Republican Senators Including Snowe And Collins Co-Sponsored Federal Contraception Mandate In 2001

Republicans have gone to war against President Obama’s regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage, portraying the measure as a “government takeover” of health care and pledging to repeal the rule in Congress. The measure, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, says that companies offering coverage must also provide birth control insurance (but exempts houses of worship and nonprofits primarily employing and serving those of the same faith).

The Obama measure closely resembles state laws providing equity in insurance coverage for contraception in six states and actually offers far more conscience protections than previous Congressional efforts to expand women’s access to birth control. For instance, a 2001 bill co-sponsored by Republicans Sens. Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME), Lincoln Chafee (RI), Gordon Smith (OR), John Warner (VA), Arlen Specter (PA)  — S. 104 —  sought to establish parity for contraceptive prescriptions within the context of coverage already guaranteed by insurance plans, but offered no opt-out clause for religious groups who opposed contraception:


`(a) REQUIREMENTS FOR COVERAGE- A group health plan, and a health insurance issuer providing health insurance coverage in connection with a group health plan, may not–

`(1) exclude or restrict benefits for prescription contraceptive drugs or devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or generic equivalents approved as substitutable by the Food and Drug Administration, if such plan provides benefits for other outpatient prescription drugs or devices; or

`(2) exclude or restrict benefits for outpatient contraceptive services if such plan provides benefits.

“Women shouldn’t be held hostage by virtue of where they live,” Snowe told a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in September of 2001.  “It simply is not fair.” “All we’re saying in this legislation is that if health insurance plans provide coverage for prescription drugs that that coverage has to extend to FDA-approved prescription contraceptives. It’s that simple.”

At the time, religious groups also raised concerns about the measure and Snowe promised to add a “conscience clause” that is similar to the exemption included in Maine’s law. Incidentally, that language is very similar to the conscience protections included in Obama’s regulation.


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, February 8, 2012

February 9, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sen. Olympia Snowe Does Not Understand Budgets

It seems Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) isn’t even trying to make sense any more:

Fiscal shenanigans such as permanent tax increases to pay for one-year temporary measures are precisely the problem that drove our nation into a $15 trillion debt crisis.

Huh? Passing a permanent tax increase to pay for a temporary measure would, logically, decrease debt, not increase it.

And, indeed, if we look back over history, we don’t see “permanent tax increases” as drivers of debt. Tax cuts, on the other hand — like those signed by Ronald Reagan and supported by Olympia Snowe and those signed by George W. Bush and supported by Olympia Snowehave contributed to increasing deficits and debt. Meanwhile, tax increases — like those signed by Bill Clinton and opposed by Olympia Snowe in 1993 —reduced deficits.

Given Snowe’s ongoing embrace of Tea Party Economics and shunning of basic economic concepts —not to mention her record of supporting measures that increased the deficit and opposing things that cut it — it isn’t surprising that she’d adopt the up-is-down, black-is-white economic fantasy that tax increases cause deficits and tax cuts increase revenue. But it should help put to rest the notion that she’s some kind of “moderate” or “sensible” Republican.


By: Jamison Foser, Media Matters Political Corrections, December 7, 2011

December 10, 2011 Posted by | Deficits, Federal Budget | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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