Published in the Portland Phoenix
Maine is a Democrat-leaning state that has — at least for now — two Republican senators. With a massively unpopular Republican president leaving office, this year’s Senate election is as much a contest based on a candidate’s real and perceived alignment with George W. Bush as anything else.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is making hay out of John McCain’s record of voting with Bush 90 percent of the time, and Maine Democratic US Representative Tom Allen is trying to do the same as he works to unseat incumbent Republican US Senator Susan Collins. One of his most recent TV ads blames the present economic meltdown on Bush’s efforts to deregulate the economy, and then says “Susan Collins supported the Bush economic policies that hurt Maine and created a national crisis.” For her part, Collins is trying to distance herself from Bush: A recent ad avoids the word “Republican” entirely, calling her “an independent voice for Maine.”
Collins is more independent than most Republican senators, opposing the president more often than all but one of her upper-house GOP colleagues — Maine’s other Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, who was elected to her third term in 2006.
But there is a gulf between Collins and Allen, and it becomes very apparent when looking at how their positions align with Bush’s (or don’t). Congressional Quarterly, a nonpartisan news organization covering Congress, has calculated a “presidential support score” for every member of Congress, looking at how often they voted with or against President George W. Bush’s wishes throughout his term to date — Collins voted with Bush 77 percent of the time; Allen just 18 percent.
On a broad range of Phoenix-selected key topics — including the USA PATRIOT Act, foreign trade, economic and tax policy, environmental issues, energy, stem-cell research, the Iraq War, the minimum wage, immigration, warrantless wiretapping, abortion and reproductive rights, education, open government and free speech, the Farm Bill, Congressional ethics and campaign-finance reform, homeland security, same-sex marriage, Supreme Court justices and key Cabinet officials (in the Senate only), AIDS/HIV, prescription-drug prices, military Base Realignment and Closure Commission issues, and treatment of terrorism detainees — Allen has sided with Bush 17 percent of the time, while Collins backed the president 64 percent of the time.
That’s a lot of difference right there. And by looking at just a few specific issues of great national importance, the contrast between Allen and Collins becomes clearer.
COLLINS voted with Bush on Iraq-related issues 72 percent of the time, including supporting both “use of force” resolutions (the one on September 14, 2001, authorizing the use of force against whomever had attacked the United States on 9/11, and the specific 2002 authorization of use of force in Iraq), and repeatedly opposed troop-withdrawal timetables. Only in 2007 did she begin offering any real opposition to Bush’s efforts in Iraq, voting to begin debate on opposing the surge, but without retracting her opposition to a withdrawal timetable.
ALLEN voted with Bush 27 percent of the time on Iraq-related questions, supporting the vague 2001 “use of force” authorization (which led to the Afghanistan war), but not the Iraq-specific one in 2002. He has supported several war-spending bills, though not all of them. He went against the president in his votes opposing the Iraq troop surge and supporting timelines for withdrawal. He also supported Bush-opposed efforts to prevent money appropriated for Iraq and Afghanistan from being spent on actions against Iran.
SNOWE supported Bush on Iraq even more than Collins, agreeing with the president’s Iraq policy 77 percent of the time, as compared with her overall support score of 73 percent. But she opposed the surge, and has sponsored a bill for prompt withdrawal from Iraq.
Democratic US Representative MIKE MICHAUD took Bush’s side 21 percent of the time, mostly on war-spending bills. (Michaud supported the president 19 percent overall.)
COLLINS agreed with Bush’s positions on civil liberties 82 percent of the time. Not only did she vote to confirm the appointments of John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, and to confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the US Supreme Court, but she voted for the USA PATRIOT Act and its reauthorizations, and for a constitutional amendment that sought to ban flag-burning. She supported Bush’s positions on treatment of terrorism detainees, the creation of military tribunals to “try” terrorism suspects (while barring the creation of a commission to oversee those tribunals, which largely have been ruled unconstitutional), and suspension of habeas corpus. She also voted to support warrantless wiretapping of American citizens, and to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that had participated in warrantless wiretaps before the practice was formally legalized. In the process, she voted to dismiss a federal lawsuit filed by Maine residents seeking information on the government’s warrantless-wiretapping program. Collins opposed a Bush-supported constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, and voted against Bush to declare that Attorney General Gonzales “no longer holds the confidence” of the Senate.
ALLEN agreed with Bush just 12 percent of the time on civil-liberties matters. He supported the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, but has opposed its renewal ever since. He has opposed Bush’s efforts to block same-sex marriage, to weaken Net neutrality, to legalize warrantless wiretapping of US citizens, and to defend abuse and torture of detainees suspected of being terrorists.
SNOWE agreed with Bush 74 percent of the time on civil-liberties matters, aligning with Collins in every way, except that she was at a family funeral and missed the votes on military tribunals and suspension of habeas corpus.
MICHAUD aligned with Bush 16 percent of the time, including support for efforts to weaken Net neutrality and for the creation of military tribunals for terrorism suspects. He was not in the House to vote on the original USA PATRIOT Act, but has opposed it since taking office.
COLLINS has supported Bush’s economic policies 88 percent of the time, backing his tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, agreeing with his efforts to abolish the estate tax, and supporting both “economic stimulus” bills (in 2001 and 2008). Her only significant opposition to the president was on the 2001 “bankruptcy reform” bill, a credit-card-company-supported measure that made it harder for individuals to reduce their debts through bankruptcy protection. She voted for the Bush-backed financial bailout proposal that passed the US Senate and was signed into law last week.
ALLEN supported 13 percent of Bush’s economic efforts, including the 2008 “economic stimulus” package (though not the one in 2001) and extensions of previously existing tax credits for children in taxpaying families. He voted against Bush’s tax breaks for the rich, and against the abolition of the estate tax, and in favor of a Bush-opposed increase to the minimum wage. He too backed the Bush-supported financial bailout, during both votes in the US House.
SNOWE supported Bush’s economic policies 54 percent of the time, including backing both “economic stimulus” bills, and most of his tax cuts (though not reductions in taxing dividends). Like Collins, she opposed the president on “bankruptcy reform,” but supported the financial bailout.
MICHAUD aligned with Bush 38 percent of the time economically, diverging from Allen’s position primarily on class-action lawsuits. (Michaud voted in favor of a bill called the “cheeseburger bill” because it blocks customers at fast-food restaurants from suing the chains’ owners for contributing to the customers’ obesity.) He opposed the financial bailout both times it was voted on in the US House.
Environment and Energy
COLLINS voted with Bush’s energy initiatives 24 percent of the time. She supported his efforts to increase logging as a way to try to prevent forest fires, as well as the controversial 2005 energy policy revision that increased federal funding for alternative energy sources but preserved massive oil-industry subsidies. (She also supported the 2007 expansion to offer even more incentives for the electric-generating industry to reduce environmental impact.) She has opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has supported clean-environment legislation Bush has opposed, such as limits on mercury emissions.
ALLEN has supported six percent of Bush’s environmental initiatives, voting in favor only of preserving snowmobilers’ access to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. He opposed almost all the Bush energy-policy proposals (including the major revision in 2005, though he supported its expansion in 2007), as well as oil drilling in ANWR, and supported Bush-opposed efforts in the areas of renewable-energy generation and public transportation.
SNOWE’s 24-percent agreement with Bush has been exactly the same as Collins’s.
MICHAUD supported Bush 13 percent of the time, when it comes to the environment, differing from Allen only in his aggressive support for logging — he supported a bill that allowed federal agencies to suspend the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts, and even the National Historic Preservation Act, when granting permits to log forests recently affected by fires or hurricanes. The bill passed, under the guise of allowing the harvest of dead timber that would decay and become unusable if the usual, slower regulatory process were followed.
COLLINS supported Bush’s healthcare efforts 40 percent of the time, backing the creation of the Medicare prescription-drug plan, and supporting efforts to find “alternate” ways to do stem-cell research, without using embryos. She opposed Bush’s efforts to curtail embryonic stem-cell research. And Collins worked against the president to try to allow price negotiation on Medicare-purchased prescription drugs, and also supported importing prescriptions from certain other countries that were deemed “safe.”
ALLEN voted with Bush on healthcare 10 percent of the time, supporting Bush’s efforts to ban “fetal harvesting” (in which embryos would be created for the sole purpose of harvesting organs or other tissue for transplantation), as well as supporting permission for research on stem cells derived from donated blood from umbilical cords. He opposed Bush’s limitations on embryonic stem-cell research, drug importation, Medicare prescription price negotiation, and human cloning for research and medical purposes. He also voted for a Bush-opposed bill that provides more coverage for mental-health conditions in private insurance plans than were previously required.
SNOWE ’s 40-percent alignment with Bush has been exactly the same as Collins’s.
MICHAUD voted with Bush 31 percent of the time, differing from Allen in his support for banning human cloning for all purposes (including medical research), and in voting to oppose researching ways to develop stem cells other than destroying embryos.
John Cranford at Congressional Quarterly generously shared CQ’s tabulation data.
Congressional Quarterly tracks all of the roll-call votes in the US House and US Senate, and how members of Congress vote. It also researches the president’s position on the votes, noting “any vote where the president expressed an opinion about the vote beforehand,” as CQ national editor John Cranford explains.
In the US House, those are normally votes on important bills — or, at the very least, votes on significant changes to bills, such as those in which representatives from both houses have conferred and agreed on compromises.
In the US Senate, votes included in the scoring also include those on confirmations of presidential appointments (which often result in even hard-core lefties voting “with the president” to confirm a judge, undersecretary, or even a major cabinet officer). And Senate scores include some procedural votes, such as “cloture,” by which the Senate votes to end debate on an issue. But cloture and other procedural votes are only included in scoring when they are the final positions lawmakers take on a bill, Cranford says.
Not included on CQ’s scorecard are any votes whose results are determined by “voice vote” or by “division,” when individuals’ positions are not recorded in the outcome.
CQ uses those results to determine a legislator’s “presidential support score,” the percentage of times a member casts his or her vote in alignment with the wishes of the president. The publication’s staff also track the positions of party leaders in Congress, to calculate a “party unity score.” That information is available online at www.cq-politics.com.
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