Down East 2013 ©
Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins hold a huge amount of power this week as they mull Obama's economic recovery package. National groups are buying ads to try to influence their vote, local groups are working to create grassroots pressure and President Obama has turned the leftovers from his election campaign into an organization to support his policy. They'll be holding house meetings all over Maine  on Friday.
Collins in particular seems to be the key vote on this bill, as the Democrats need at least two votes to break a filibuster and Snowe has been more likely, in the past, to buck her party and vote with the Dems.
Both Snowe and Collins scored big victories in their last elections, so even national groups with lots of money can't do much to scare them into voting for a bill they disagree with. Whether this package passes or not, and the details of what it contains, will be decided by the senators themselves, hopefully with plenty of input from their constituents. So how likely is it then, that Collins will decide to support the stimulus? Her legislative history provides some clues, but even more questions.
The first thing to note is that despite their moderate stances on a wide range of issues, both Snowe and Collins are definitely still Republicans. According to an analysis of partisan voting done by Professors Jeff Lewis and Keith Poole at UC San Diego, only one Democrat in the last eight years has had a more conservative voting record during a congressional session than Maine's duo. That was Zell Miller, the crazy guy who spoke at the Republican National convention in 2004 and tried to challenge Chris Matthews to a duel.
That doesn't mean that Collins hasn't committed partisan apostasy on occasion. She voted against the impeachment of President Clinton, against the ban on partial birth abortion, and joined the "gang of fourteen" to save the filibuster (a shrewd move considering the power that procedural maneuver now gives her). She has supported some free trade bills and opposed others (she voted against CAFTA) and has voted both for and against drilling for oil in the National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Collins has also voted for some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration. She supported all of the administration's tax cuts and the bankruptcy bill, voted for the war in Iraq and to deny habeas corpus to detainees. She also voted in favor of almost all of the administration's nominees, including Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Alito. Overall, it's a mixed bag, and provides little guidance for how she may approach the coming legislative agenda beyond the fact that she treats each issue independently and pragmatically. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.
While Snowe and Collins have played an important role in passing or defeating legislation before, they've never served in a congress where their votes were so important as they are now. The stimulus package will be the first of many important bills where our two senators find themselves the center of attention. Soon, Snowe's crucial vote will make Maine ground zero for labor advocates hoping to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and both of the senators will be lobbied heavily on whatever universal health care bill makes it to the floor. Don't expect things to calm down soon.