Political Animal


September 26, 2011 3:05 PM What passes for moderation

By Steve Benen

Objectively speaking, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine is one of Congress’ most moderate Republicans. Alas, that realization is part of a larger problem.

Today, Collins has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal recommending a moratorium on federal regulations — she calls it a “time out” — that uses all of the same poll-tested phrases her Republican caucus tells its members to repeat. The Mainer express concern about “uncertainty,” “crushing” regulations, and the “big wet blanket on our economy.”

I’m honestly not sure whether to be annoyed or feel sorry for Collins. If she actually believes this nonsense, it’s the former.

Matt Finkelstein helps set the record straight.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is predictably cheering Collins’ contribution to the team, but economists and business owners dispute the Collins-Boehner narrative. According to a survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal, “The main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies.” The paper has also reported that businesses are “hoarding cash” and waiting for “a burst in demand strong enough to propel hiring.”

The next time Collins wants to write a column on job creation, she should look for inspiration in her own past statements instead of the GOP message machine.

Also note, McClatchy recently “reached out to owners of small businesses, many of them mom-and-pop operations, to find out whether they indeed were being choked by regulation.” The news outlet found, “None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it.”

At a certain level, I suspect Collins knows this. But as her party shifts dramatically to the hard right, it appears she’s willing to inch further and further in that direction herself, which is terribly sad to watch.

Indeed, this comes less than a week after her friend and colleague from Maine, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances. That’s a popular line among conservatives, but it’s wrong, too.

Taken together, what seems obvious is that Congress no longer has actual Republican moderates. What we have are far-right Republicans and not-quite-as-far-to-the-right Republicans.

Given the larger landscape, there’s room for genuine GOP centrists — in, say, the Mark Hatfield or Lowell Weicker mold — to have a significant impact in Washington. Real Republican moderates, if they existed, would not only generate considerable attention, but could potentially have an instrumental role in shaping policy.

But that’s not an option. The best of the best — relatively speaking, of course — is now made up of Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of whom appear to be reading from a ridiculous script.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • stormskies on September 26, 2011 3:16 PM:

    The actual problem, again, is that none of these Repiglicans live in a fact based universe. Their universe is completely fact free. And, the scary part, is that they actually 'believe' in their delusions, their illusions, and have managed to construct a universe that is nothing more that pixy dust. Yet 'believe' they do. And, sadly, a vast amount of our populace also believes in this pixy dust. These of course are the same Americans who live pretty much at the level of cretins. These are the ones who 'believe' in Creationism over actual science. About 50% of our population believes that the Earth is less that 10,000 years old, that human co-mingled with the Dinosaurs. FIFTY PERCENT. With a population like that it is of course not surprising that we have ended up in the horrible predicament that we are all in. Truly, the United Stupid America. Clearly, this is a what American exceptionalism is about.

    USA ! USA ! USA !

  • T2 on September 26, 2011 3:18 PM:

    both Snowe and Collins are cut from the same cloth. Pretend "moderates" at election time and then whichever way the wind blows (mostly to the Right) the rest of the time. Neither are to be trusted and both should be replaced with Dems.

  • DAY on September 26, 2011 3:27 PM:

    Where are the Democratic senators publishing their op eds?
    When is Schumer, et al, going to go on the TeeVee and say flat out that Senator XYZ is either stupid or lying or both?

  • SW on September 26, 2011 3:40 PM:

    You just have to write off the Republican party if you are serious about economics. It doesn't mean you have to embrace the Democrats. But you have to run away from the Republicans. They are simply not serious about economics.

  • doubtful on September 26, 2011 3:50 PM:

    Good. Let her pull back the sheep's clothing. Maybe Maine will finally elect a better Senator.

  • max on September 26, 2011 3:51 PM:

    When Bush was elected or appointed (however you like it) the first thing his chief of staff Andy Card did was issue a memo to all federal agencies regarding regulations. If memory serves, he said any non-discretionary regulations (i.e., a regulation mandated by law) already in the proposed or final clearance pipeline should proceed, and anything nondiscretionary should be temporarily halted and re-examined. Many non-discretionary rules were allowed to continue, including one I was writing. Why? Because they are necessary at times, and needed by the private sector. Nondiscretionary rules are a no brainer. These are based on existing laws, and when I woke up this morning Barack Obama was the President, not a pandering GOPer from Maine with yet another bad idea. Nondiscretionary rules have to continue - many are time limited with specific deadlines - and each one is, of course, ultimately shaped and massaged by the administration in power. That's politics. We all vote and then someone, hopefully, runs the government. Just coming out and saying all regulations writing must stop is idiotic pandering to the right wing fringe.

  • Live Free or Die on September 26, 2011 3:52 PM:

    This is another reason why Dems lose while Repubs win. Notice that the "moderate" Republican takes the far right position, while we we would never see Nelson, Landrieu, et al take a liberal Democratic position. The other problem is that Dems are not very good at making arguments. Take this "uncertainty" meme. Why dont Dems point out that this makes no sense? If businesses are not investing because of political "uncertainty", then they will never invest because every two year we have "uncertainty", or elections that will have policy implications. So if business got everything it wanted this year, there would still be uncertainty because there is an election next year, and two years after that. There can never be certainty. The only way "uncertainty" could go away is if we had a dictatorship. Uncertainty is a word Frank Luntz came up with.

  • catclub on September 26, 2011 3:56 PM:

    "The best of the best"
    Maybe really means best of a bad lot?
    Best of the worst?

  • eahoppi on September 26, 2011 3:58 PM:

    Real Republican moderates, if they existed, would not only generate considerable attention, but could potentially have an instrumental role in shaping policy.

    Real Republican moderates, if they existed, would be primaried by Tea Party extremists for not marching in goosestep with the rest of the Republican crazies.

    Fixed the sentence for you!

  • dalloway on September 26, 2011 4:03 PM:

    Hello, government shutdown. Both Snowe and Collins are on the list of ten Republicans Harry Reid thinks will be reasonable on the FEMA funding bill. Lucy's going to jerk the football away yet again. Won't these guys ever learn?

  • Danny Gail McElrath on September 26, 2011 4:06 PM:

    I agree with T2. Collins and Snowe are both phonies. It is way past time for the Democratic leadership to quit playng footsie with them.

  • bigtuna on September 26, 2011 4:08 PM:

    The utter fallacy of these positions lie in their dishonest use of economics and terminology. The WSJ, repubs., etc., all claim they want the EPA, etc., to fully account for regs., in a cost benefit analysis. However, when one goes back to Friedman, etc., we find that they marginalize the benefits, or claim "they are not easily calculated' and thus, the set the benefits to 0. Thus, voila, any CBA will have a negative value of benefit relative to economically determined costs.

    When people have objectively looked at regs., for the most part, they find that the benefits are greater than originally thought, and the costs are less than originally claimed. Clean air act rules, for exa., can be shown to have had a much greater health, and thus, health care cost, benefit than anyone dreamed of.

    The problem is, of course, is that for any reg., they can marshal the Kochs, the CoC, Am. manufac., etc. and run a tested message. The other side? oh, you know, kids with asthma, people with COPD, etc...

    The right works with faluty, old, and bad ideas that they parade as data. Collins and SNowe are just more of the same bullshit.

  • Mike on September 26, 2011 4:18 PM:

    One has to wonder if these so-called "op-ed" pieces by relatively moderate Republicans are actual written by them or if McConnell, Kyl, and company write them and insist that other Republicans get them published as a condition to getting any of their pet projects through the Senate?

  • H-Bob on September 26, 2011 4:41 PM:

    I'm okay with a moratorium on federal regulations if:
    --Burmese pythons have a moratorium on killing;
    --the glaciers have a moratorium on receding;
    --cancer declares a moratorium on killing;
    --the economy has a moratorium on recessions;
    --etc. !

  • Krowe on September 26, 2011 4:53 PM:

    We already have lots of moderate Republicans in office.
    They're called Democrats.

  • 57andFemale on September 26, 2011 5:36 PM:

    When Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe continued to embrace the Republican brand as the tea party surged, I gave up all hope for them. They could have chosen to stand up and fight for a return to sanity, but they did not. They could have left the far fringe party and taken an honest stand for moderation, but they did not. They chose to stay Republican and therefore deserve all of the disdain we can heap upon them.

  • exlibra on September 26, 2011 6:11 PM:

    It all depends on how you define "small business". The kind of "small business" that McClatchy has looked at (the kind that counts employees in tens or, at most, in hundreds) needs the regulations to function properly and to prosper. The "job creator" kind of "small business" (which counts employees in tens or hundreds of thousands, and which peddles itself to stockholders via Wall St) hates regulations like a plague. Obviously, Sen Collins is talking about the second kind of "small business".

    And I agree with DAY, @3:18PM; it's time our own "centrists" (like Mark Warner, for example) started publishing op-eds on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal.

  • LA Crystal on September 27, 2011 1:47 AM:

    When I saw Collins giving the Republican weekly address, I thought she sounded like she had just received a rather large contribution - most likely from the Koch brothers. I think she specifically targeted paper/pulp factories' regulations. Just coincidence that the Koch's own Georgia-Pacific? I think not.