Weekly Column

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Jan 23 2012

“Achieving Bipartisan Success”

Weekly Column By Senator Susan Collins

The New Year is always a good time to look back with a feeling of accomplishment at the challenges we have met, and to look forward with hope to those that lie ahead. Americans are rightfully frustrated with the gridlock and partisanship so prevalent in Washington these days. I share this frustration. But I also believe that if you build bipartisan bridges, you can move forward. I am pleased that I achieved several priorities last year that make a difference to Mainers every day.

As the senior Republican on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, I have worked hard to ensure that our transportation infrastructure is modern, safe, and efficient, here in Maine and across the country.

I was delighted when, in November, the President signed a bill that contained a provision that I wrote to allow the heaviest trucks on the federal interstates in Maine for the next 20 years. This has always been one of my top transportation priorities, and it’s a major victory that will not only help make our roads safer, but it will also help our economy.

The law I authored with Democrat Pat Leahy of Vermont will not increase the size or weight of trucks on our road. That’s because Maine and Vermont law already allowed 100,000 pound trucks to operate on state and municipal roads. But these same trucks were not allowed on the interstates, where it is safer for them to travel. It simply made no sense to force heavier trucks off the highway and onto our smaller roads and crowded, downtown streets. This increased the wear-and-tear on our secondary roads and unnecessarily jeopardized the safety of both drivers and pedestrians. Today, truckers are able to use the highway, reducing the number of miles they are forced to drive, which results in fuel cost savings and decreased emissions. Maine businesses can now receive raw materials and ship products more economically, thus helping to preserve and create jobs. This 20-year fix truly is a win-win.

Our success in 2011 was not limited to the highways. I successfully secured nearly $11 million to replace the aging Richmond-Dresden bridge over the Kennebec River, a critical transportation link in the Midcoast region.

The deterioration of the Memorial Bridge, an essential link for our state’s businesses and people, including thousands of workers at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, prompted me to advocate for a significant federal contribution to supplement funds from Maine and New Hampshire to replace that bridge.

When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood first announced that a $20-million federal grant would be awarded toward construction of a new bridge, we thought we had the money in hand. Then, last February, partisan bickering in Washington led the House to pass a funding bill that would have blocked those funds.

I immediately asked Secretary LaHood to work with officials in Maine and New Hampshire to cut through the bureaucratic red tape that threatened this vital project. Thankfully, federal and state officials in both states acted with record speed to complete the environmental studies and other reviews, and Maine and New Hampshire received this important funding.

I also worked on a bipartisan basis to stop an ill-conceived government regulation after the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an attack against the fresh, white potato. The Department proposed a rule that would have limited servings vegetables, including potatoes, green peas, lima beans, and corn to one cup per week in the National School Lunch program. It also would have banned these vegetables from the School Breakfast Program altogether.

This was Washington overreach at its worst, and it would have been an expensive result as well: the USDA’s own estimate was that this rule could have cost as much as $6.8 billion over five years. The lion’s share of these costs would have fallen on states, local school systems, and families.

Worst of all, the proposed rule would have limited healthfully-prepared potatoes, which are a good source of several nutrients the USDA had cited as significantly lacking in the American diet, such as potassium and dietary fiber.

Along with Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, I offered an amendment to the USDA funding bill to stop this arbitrary limitation, while requiring that school meals be consistent with the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Our amendment was adopted by the Senate unanimously, and signed into law by the President.

These are just a few examples of accomplishments achieved even during a time when gridlock seems to have brought Washington to a standstill. In looking ahead to 2012, we clearly need to continue to work to improve our lagging economy with more than 13 million Americans still out of work and our unsustainable debt exceeding $15.2 trillion.

Solutions are within reach if those in Washington will work across party lines. Late last year, I joined with my Democratic colleague, Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, to introduce the Bipartisan Jobs Creation Act. Our plan would create jobs by cutting taxes for small businesses, investing in the nation’s critical transportation infrastructure, cutting the tangle of red-tape that is holding businesses back from expanding and adding jobs, and fundamentally reforming the hodge-podge of federal jobs training programs to focus on what really works. It is fully paid for with a surtax on millionaires and billionaires, but with a “carve out” to help protect small business owners, and an end to tax giveaways to big oil companies. I am hopeful Senate leaders will consider our plan in the new year.

As I always have, I will continue to work hard on behalf of the people of Maine. And I believe that, working together, we can replace the current frustration with the optimism that is the true American spirit.


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