WASHINGTON — Sen. Olympia Snowe has apparently decided that it is better to bow to political pressure from the tea party movement than to stand up for the interests of Maine.
How else to explain her vote last week for a federal spending measure that would harm Maine's economy while punishing thousands of Mainers, including seniors, veterans, preschool children, college students and families struggling to keep their oil furnace running?
It turns out that the tea party does not have to defeat U.S. senators to claim their seat. It just has to threaten them. If what Snowe voted for last week becomes law, 700,000 jobs are likely to be lost in Maine and across the country.
This is not according to a Democratic think-tank, but an economic adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, Mark Zandi.
NO TO HEAT ASSISTANCE
Snowe voted to throw tens of thousands of Maine families off of a lifeline that enables them to get through a Maine winter. She voted to cut the emergency energy assistance program -- LIHEAP -- by 66 percent, literally tossing Maine families out of the program and into the cold.
She voted to undermine services to Maine seniors who benefit from the Medicare program. Payments benefitting seniors who participate in the Medicare Advantage program, for instance, would be suspended, according to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. And Snowe's vote would create "significant disruption" to providers, suppliers and seniors who use Medicare.
Snowe voted to cut 3,500 positions from the Social Security administration, guaranteeing extended delays in the distribution of basic retirement claims and disability payments. She voted to eliminate 10,000 supportive housing vouchers for homeless veterans.
Sen. Snowe voted to knock 218,000 kids out of the Head Start program and force 16,000 classrooms to close while cutting 1.7 million college students from the Pell Grant program -- their lifeline to a college education.
From the seat once held by the environmental champion Sen. Edmund Muskie, Snowe voted to cut land and water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, and one-third of the entire Environmental Protection Agency's budget.
Make no mistake -- this was not a vote about doing the difficult but right thing to confront the federal budget deficit.
A sober debate about reining in long-term federal deficits begins by recognizing that the first step to fiscal health is an economy that produces decent-paying jobs.
Jobs fill pockets with money to spend on goods and services that in turn create more jobs. These jobs produce revenue that reduces the federal deficit. You are not serious about fueling a fragile economic recovery when you slash hundreds of thousands of jobs with one vote.
You are not serious about balancing the federal deficit when you support maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans at a price of $2.5 trillion over 10 years -- exactly the amount that congressional Republicans want to slash and burn from the federal budget over this same time period.
You are not serious about addressing the federal budget deficit when you repeatedly vote to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for the war in Afghanistan.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone account for 23 percent of the federal budget deficit since 2003.
STATE CUTS HURT TOO
The Portland Press Herald's Bill Nemitz quoted a Portland middle school librarian who drove to the State House in Augusta last week to testify against similar tea party-driven cuts to Maine's state budget.
Kelley McDaniel described the cuts this way: "It's not economically sound. It's not morally sound. And I think you know that. I would be embarrassed to support something so ludicrous -- taking from the poor to give to the rich. Maybe you are testing us, checking to see if we, your constituents, are really paying attention, really listening. I hope that's what's going on, because the alternative involves me losing faith in representative government, in democracy, and in you, the elected officials."
Our fragile economic recovery, our kids, college students, seniors, veterans, environment and our health all took a hit on the floor of the U.S. Senate from a senator who was once described as independent.
Sen. Snowe might think that she made a prudent political calculation by bowing to the radical right of her party and placing her political interests ahead of the interests of her constituents. But she needs to know that Mainers are paying attention. And that the seat she is holding is Maine's U.S. Senate seat. Not the tea party's.