Susan Collins says these 4 things are breaking Congress

Happy Friday from Augusta.

This morning, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Maine’s Republican congressman from the 2nd District, is touring the New Balance shoe factory in Norridgewock. New Balance was a favorite example of Maine manufacturing for Poliquin’s predecessor, Democrat Mike Michaud.

The two are worlds apart on many policy issues, but Poliquin has picked up one fight right where Michaud left off, urging the Pentagon to approve New Balance footwear as compliant with the Berry Amendment, which requires the military to buy American-made apparel when possible. The deal will be a boon for New Balance, which has two manufacturing facilities in Maine.

It’s a light day at the State House with just four committees scheduled to meet.

The Appropriations Committee will continue its work on the biennial budget. The Public Safety Committee is taking up a bill to strengthen the state’s sex trafficking laws, among others, while the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is considering several election and campaign finance reforms.

The Health and Human Services Committee will hold public hearings on a handful of bills, including one to limit the use of extended-release hydrocodone, a commonly abused drug. For a complete list of committee activities and bills under review today, click here. — Mario Moretto

Are you reading the Daily Brief on the Web? Want to read it every morning in your email inbox instead? Subscribe here.

Collins: Congress doesn’t work, for these 4 reasons

Maine’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Susan Collins, spoke last night at Colby College. As she did at the University of Maine a few weeks ago, Collins spoke about the “how the hyperpartisanship and incivility in Washington and throughout our nation elevate extremism and prevent progress.”

Collins, who’s been in the Senate for nearly two decades, said there are four causes for Congress’ failures. The following remarks are pulled from her speech, as it was prepared.

  • A general decline in civil political discourse: Collins chalks this up, in part, to the Internet, which she said has lowered the standard everywhere. “… Alternate views are either ignored or misrepresented and ridiculed,” she said. “In short, people tend to congregate online with people who think as they do. When they encounter opposing viewpoints, the trend is to attack, rather than debate.”
  • Cable TV. Though she didn’t call out any programs by name, Collins said the tenor of cable TV shows that depend on enraging their audience for ratings has leaked into Congress. “Consider the House member from my party who interrupted President Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress a few years ago by yelling ‘You lie!’  Or the House Democratic member whose contribution to the health care debate consisted of asserting that Republicans had a two-word plan — ‘Die Quickly.'”
  • The forever campaign. “When I started in the Senate, some in Washington would cynically refer to odd-numbered years in Congress as ‘work years’ and even-numbered years as ‘campaign years.’ If only we could keep to that schedule now, it would actually be an improvement.”
  • Gerrymandering. The reshaping of congressional districts to ensure the district remains Blue or Red makes for fewer and fewer legitimate general elections, Collins said. “In a balanced district, you have an imperfect but relatively effective equilibrium where the system incentivizes primary voters to select candidates with broader appeal. This incentivizes candidates to take more reasonable positions. … In [gerrymandered] districts, independents and moderates are marginalized. As a result, the districts produce more Members of Congress from the extremes.”

The senator went on to discuss instances in which bipartisanship and cool heads prevailed, such as the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, as well as more recent, cautionary tales of gridlock such as the government shutdown in 2013. You can read Collins’ whole speech here.

According to an analysis last year by the New York Times, Collins voted against her party about in four out of every 10 votes, making her a rarity in the Senate. Even if the bar was lowered to bucking the party just 20 percent of the time, Collins would still be one of just two senators — along with Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski — who make the cut. — Mario Moretto.

Climate protest scheduled for State House on Saturday

A coalition of students from schools across the state, calling itself Maine Students for Climate Change, is preparing for what organizers pledge will be the “largest youth-led climate action in Maine history” on Saturday, when activists will call for a moratorium on any new fossil-fuel infrastructure in the state.

The call will likely go unanswered. Gov. Paul LePage is a big fan of natural gas, and says he wants to expand the pipeline bringing the stuff from the fertile shale in Pennsylvania over to the Pine Tree State. Such an effort would require multi-state cooperation and so far progress has been slow, but it’s hard to imagine LePage agreeing to dump the plan.

The event is scheduled for 11 a.m. on the steps of the State House. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

I’m not sure about this one …

According to the BDN’s Aislinn Sarnacki, science says dogs understand an average of 165 words.

Ace went to great lengths to figure out the vocabulary size of her pooch, Oreo, who you may have seen in her popular “1-Minute Hike” videos. Oreo’s no slouch, but she only got to about 60 words that she felt certain the dog knew.

What about cats, though? I’m pretty sure my fat cat, Ella, only knows her name. I suppose she also grasps the meaning of the sound made when I grab the kitty kibble bag, but it would be a stretch to call that one a “word.”

Maybe she’s dumb, but I’d like to think of her as simply aloof. She knows the words, she just doesn’t care. My cat, the original hipster. — Mario Moretto.


Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.