- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sen. Susan Collins, whose support for a scaled-back stimulus bill broke a Republican filibuster and handed President Obama and the Democrats a political victory, isn’t the most popular person in her chamber’s GOP caucus right now.

Her support for the bill, she acknowledges, has come at a cost that has chilled relationships with some of her GOP colleagues, but that it was the right thing to do.

“I believe this is truly a dire crisis,” the Maine lawmaker told the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. “When we lose 600,000 jobs in one month and when unemployment in Maine is at a 16-year record high at 7 percent, and when each day brings reports of another loss of jobs in Maine and across the country, I don’t believe a responsible reaction is to just say no.”

She also touts the bipartisan efforts that went into the stimulus bill, citing six Republicans and 14 centrist Democrats who worked to scale back the bill after it left the House.

“We were able to weed out of this bill $100 billion of spending, some of which may be worthwhile, but was not stimulative,” she said.

Mrs. Collins, along with fellow senators Olympia Snowe, also from Maine, and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, provided the three critical votes that saved Mr. Obama from a setback on the central economic plank in his agenda.

Mrs. Collins’ actions have made her a pivotal leader in the Senate’s divided ranks who has the potential to decide the outcome of future battles to come in favor of the administration.

“With Senate Democrats short of a 60-seat majority and most Republicans staunchly opposed to the administration’s initiatives, Senate procedures put a handful of Republican moderates in the driver’s seat,” said William Galston who served as chief domestic adviser in the Clinton White House.

Democrats, however, are cheering her bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and in the White House, where she has been lobbied by Mr. Obama in the Oval Office. Her popularity has soared back home where she easily was re-elected to a third term last year with more than 61 percent of the vote.

“I can’t recall any criticism that I’ve come across related to her vote on the stimulus bill. She’s been widely praised in the state for her actions on the bill,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine.

“Anecdotally, if you go by the editorials in the newspapers here, she’s only kind of enhanced her stature in the state as a result of her role in the stimulus package.”

Miss Collins, who calls herself a fiscal conservative, said her vote was driven by the need to break the impasse on the bill and insert some needed bipartisanship into the process.

“People don’t want us to be the party that says no, just no,” she said.

The stimulus package will deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to her state, including $220 million in infrastructure spending on dozens of public works projects.

But not everyone is buying her self-described fiscal conservatism now.

“Conservative on fiscal issues? Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins just voted for a permanent expansion of the S-Chip [State Children’s Health Insurance Program] and the gargantuan stimulus bill. They’re to the left of their party’s mainstream across the board,” the conservative National Review said last week.

Still, the senator’s ratings by various groups show that she voted mostly down the middle over much of her career. The American Conservative Union gave her a 48 percent rating in 2006, a score that plunged to 36 percent in 2007 as she prepared to run for a third term. The liberal American Civil Liberties Union gave her a 50 percent score in the last Congress.

But on many social and key economic issues she has tended to side with the Democrats by opposing hefty GOP tax cuts and the partial-birth-abortion ban. In 2003, she called for cutting President Bush’s tax cuts in half.

She opposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and troop withdrawal in Iraq, but supported stem-cell research, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and raising the minimum wage.

She was part of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” senators who said they would not support the GOP’s efforts to invoke the “nuclear option” to force a vote on President Bush’s judicial nominees who were being held up by the Democrats. The group’s effort actually accelerated a number of delayed votes that moved many of Mr. Bush’s choices to the federal bench.

Miss Collins was born in Caribou, Maine, near the Canadian border, and was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of St. Lawrence University. She rose from an aide to Maine Sen. William Cohen to become the New England regional director of the Small Business Administration, making an unsuccessful run for governor in 1994.

When Mr. Cohen announced his retirement in 1996, she ran for his seat, winning a tough three-way Republican primary before beating Democrat Joe Brennan in the general election. She was re-elected in 2002, and, breaking a pledge to serve only two terms, won a third term in November.

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