Maine Senator Collins defies party orders

On Sept. 23, Senator Susan Collins, the senior United States Senator from Maine, announced her opposition to the Graham-Cassidy Affordable Care Act repeal bill. Her defection dropped the party below the votes they needed to pass the bill and, the next day, the party announced it would not hold a vote on the bill.

Collins’ opposition ended (for now) the seven-year Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare. But who is Susan Collins, what is her role in the Senate, and what are her policy stances in other areas?

Collins stated she opposed Graham-Cassidy because it was being rushed through without proper analysis of its potential effects. This embodies her approach to legislation. Senator Collins is a centrist who says she prioritizes effective, evidence-backed policies. She champions bipartisanship in the United States Senate, and she is the senior-most woman in the Senate, she is 15th in seniority overall.

Collins first joined the Senate in 1997, winning a tight-margin election for the vacated seat of William Cohen, her former boss who was retiring to become Secretary of Defense under President Clinton. Since this win, Collins has carried every county in every challenge to her seat.

As a senator, Collins previously chaired the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and currently serves as Chairwoman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. A dedicated public servant, the National Journal honored Collins for ‘perfect attendance’— her consecutive voting streak reached 6,400 votes this year.

In 2009, Time Magazine described Collins as one of the last of a ‘once-common species of moderate Northeastern Republican.’ The Georgetown University partisanship index ranked Collins in the top 10 most bipartisan senators for the past consecutive five years, and as the most bipartisan in 2015. She has often found herself among a handful of Republicans voting across party lines. In 2017, Bates College awarded the Senator an honorary doctorate, finding that her values have bridged current hyper-partisanship on various occasions.

Collins has a Keynesian voting record. She voted in favor of the Bush Tax Cuts and was also one of three Republicans to support both President Obama’s $800 billion economic recovery spending to stem the financial crisis and the $1.1 trillion appropriations bill for fiscal year 2010.

Collins believes in decreasing taxes on individuals and families earning between $12,001-$100,000 and implementing higher marginal income tax brackets for those earning more than $1 million. She supports keeping capital gains and corporate taxes at current levels and maintaining a safety net while boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Collins has voted for consistent, gradual increases to the military budget. The Senator also supports robust funding for government programs including scientific research, national parks, education, and domestic infrastructure, while citing wasteful agribusiness subsidies that should be decreased. She believes in a balanced budget and supports pay as you go rules to achieve this end.

Senator Collins is progressive on civil rights issues. She is pro-choice, and was rated 70 percent by Planned Parenthood in 2017, and 90 percent by pro-choice lobby NARAL. She was also the primary Republican sponsor of the 2010 repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law applying to LGBT individuals in the military, and, along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), promulgated bill amendments to oppose the Trump Administration’s proposed ban of transgendered individuals from the military.

Collins has historically opposed gun control, earning up to a B+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA). However, recent votes, such as in favor of the Manchin-Toomey bill to expand federal background checks on gun purchases, have dropped this rating to a C+.

The Senator also urged compromise on the fight over increasing the minimum wage, citing CBO estimates that a smaller increase may provide ‘living wages’ and avoid substantial job destruction.

In 1997, Collins founded the Senate Diabetes Caucus, which has since tripled federal funding for Diabetes research.

Senator Collins was also instrumental in the transformation of U.S. Intelligence agencies following 9/11.

Collins’ record on the environment is mixed. She is a member of the Gang of 20, a pro-alternate power senate group, and was one of three Republicans to oppose the 2017 attempt to repeal Obama administration regulations prohibiting drilling on public lands, which failed 51-49. She also opposed Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and PolitiFact has found her to be one of only eight Republican senators who accept the scientific consensus that global warming is both real and man-made.

At times, her commitment to the environment is perhaps tested by her bonds to constituent business— the Senator proposed an amendment to the 2012 Clean Air Act to eliminate standards on industrial boilers and incinerators. This amendment failed. Had it passed, the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) estimates that it may have led to 28,000 premature deaths, 17,000 heart attacks, and 180,000 asthma attacks.

Senator Collins’ bipartisan style has found itself at odds with the rough and tumble politics of Trump. In the run up to the election, Collins stated she would not vote for Donald Trump ‘based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics.’ After Trump’s election, Collins opposed the proposed travel ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, stating its implementation would be ‘immediately problematic’ and that, broadly, religious tests to immigration ‘run contrary to our American values.’ She also supported attempts to subpoena Trump’s tax returns as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.