Sunday, December 20, 2009

Senator Collins to vote against health care legislation

Says bill fails to reduce costs and will hurt Maine's seniors, health care providers, and small businesses

U.S. Senator Susan Collins announced today her decision to vote against the final health care bill unveiled by Majority Leader Harry Reid on Saturday. Following is her statement:

"Our nation’s health care system requires substantial reform. The status quo of soaring health care costs, families struggling, millions uninsured, and health care provider shortages is unacceptable. That is why I am so disappointed that the partisan legislation before the Senate falls far short of what should be the goals of reform. This bill will actually increase health care costs, impose billions in new taxes, fees, and penalties, and hurt our seniors, health care providers, and small businesses. I simply cannot support such a bill.

"It is particularly disappointing that the bill does not do enough to rein in the cost of health care and to provide consumers with more affordable choices. Whether I am talking to a self-employed fisherman, a laid-off worker, the owner of a struggling small business, or the human resource manager of a large company, the soaring cost of health insurance is a primary concern. Yet, the government's own actuary projects that health care costs will be higher as a result of this bill than under current law.

"I am deeply opposed to the nearly $500 billion in cuts to Medicare – a program that already has long-term financing problems. It is fiscally irresponsible to raid Medicare to pay for a new entitlement program at a time when the number of Medicare beneficiaries is on the rise.

"It makes no sense that the bill would slash more than $47 billion in payments to home health and hospice providers. That is completely contrary to the goal of controlling health care costs because home care and hospice services have consistently proven to be cost-effective alternatives to institutional care.

"According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Actuary, these deep cuts could push one in five hospitals, nursing homes, and home health providers into the red. Many of these providers would simply stop taking Medicare patients, which would jeopardize access to care for millions of seniors.

"The comments of the Chief Executive Officer of Central Maine Healthcare, reflect what I have heard from many of Maine's health care providers about this bill. He told me that its passage would be 'disastrous' for Maine and would saddle our hospitals with some $800 million in Medicare cuts over the next ten years.

"Aside from the devastating cuts in Medicare, additional financing for this bill comes through an array of new taxes, penalties, and fees on individuals, employers, insurance providers, and medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers. The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation have testified that these costs will simply be passed on to consumers, further increasing the costs of health care for many Americans – the opposite of what health care reform should produce.

"And there is a four-year gap between when billions of new taxes and fees are imposed and when the new subsidies go into effect. The bill would provide fewer and more expensive insurance choices for many self-employed individuals who will not qualify for subsidies.

"The detrimental impact of this bill on small businesses, our nation's job creators, concerns me greatly. This bill would discourage small businesses from hiring more employees and paying them better. It could lead to onerous financial penalties on small businesses that are already struggling to provide health insurance for their employees.

"Small businesses want to provide health insurance for their employees, but many simply cannot afford to absorb double-digit increases in their health insurance premiums year after year. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the nation’s leading small business association, says this bill does too little to reduce insurance costs, imposes new taxes, establishes new entitlement programs, and creates new mandates that will burden small business owners and their employees. In short, the NFIB says, 'the Senate bill fails small business.' I agree.

"To remedy some of these fundamental problems, I worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to offer significant bipartisan amendments aimed at containing costs, helping small businesses, increasing affordability, and providing more choices for consumers. Unfortunately, we were precluded from offering our amendments due to procedural roadblocks.

"It is unfair that Republicans were allowed to offer only seven amendments to a bill that affects every single citizen and one-sixth of our nation’s economy.

"The health care legislation before the Senate has enormous consequences for our economy and our society. The Senate missed the opportunity to produce true, bipartisan health reform. Unfortunately, the process became too divisive and partisan, and the result is a bill that takes us in the wrong direction and will do more harm than good. Keeping in mind the oath every physician takes to 'first, do no harm,' I will cast my vote against this legislation."

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lieberman, Collins look to special commission to restore nation's fiscal balance

Leading financial experts Thursday told Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., that the only way Congress can tackle the nation’s growing $12 trillion debt is through a statutorily-created, bipartisan commission.
At a hearing entitled, “Safeguarding the American Dream: Prospects for our Economic Future and Proposals to Secure It,” witnesses urged creation of a commission whose recommendations would be put on a legislative fast track and would not be subject to amendment by Congress.
“The American people have reached a tipping point on this,” Lieberman said. “They see that we in Washington are incapable of dealing with the debt, ultimately because we are irresponsible. We like to spend and we don’t like to raise taxes. You don’t have to be Alan Greenspan to know that that will lead to an unsustainable debt…
“If we continue adding to the debt without putting in place meaningful measures to pay it back, we put at risk both our economic and national security; we place our nation’s economy at the mercies of foreign creditors who don’t always share our values; and we put in jeopardy generational promises we have made to ourselves and our children, like Medicare and Social Security.”
Senator Collins said: “We cannot continue business as usual. This is the moment in history in which we must confront the conflict between what we want and what we can afford. It is time to reassess our national priorities, to make the hard decisions, and to set a new course.
“The budget reform proposals presented by our Senate colleagues would begin to move us forward as a nation in facing our fiscal challenges.”
During the hearing, Senator Collins asked witness David Walker, former Comptroller General of the United States, about the irony of the day’s hearing, saying: “I cannot help but observe the irony that we are having this debate about what to do with the unsustainable debt load of this country at a time that we are debating on the Senate floor a huge health care bill that is in essence creating a new entitlement program that has enormous consequences for our future budgets... and that could actually drive national health care spending up, not down.” Walker agreed with Senator Collins’ assessment, saying: “It is somewhat ironic.” The core issue is rising health care costs, he said. “The one thing that could bankrupt America is health care costs and we’re not doing enough to really truly be able to reduce health care costs as well as the rate of increase,” said Walker.

Lieberman has joined with Senator Voinovich, R-Ohio, in introducing legislation – the SAFE Commission Act of 2009, S. 1056 -- to get a handle on the growing debt. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Ranking Member Judd Gregg, R-N.H. – both of whom testified at the hearing -- have introduced a similar proposal, the Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act of 2009, S. 2853, which Lieberman and Voinovich have co-sponsored.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified that expanded prosperity is finite and cannot be counted on to reduce the debt. For that reason, both commission proposals would require that all possible measures be considered – including raising taxes and fees, cutting loans and subsidies, and reigning in discretionary spending and entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.
Lieberman, Conrad, and others have vowed to oppose a long-term increase in the nation’s debt limit unless a special commission is created to bring the debt under control. The Senate is expected to vote this week or next on the short-term debt limit increase the House has already passed.
Witnesses at the hearing also included Walker, who now heads the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The foundation estimates that in addition to the more than $12 trillion in debt, the nation’s unfunded liabilities related to pension obligations, Medicare, and Social Security exceed $40 trillion or almost $500,000 per American household.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Collins, Wyden introduce amendments to hold down premiums and expand health care choices

Bipartisan amendments offered to Senate health care bill

Washington, D.C.-. U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) today filed three bipartisan amendments to the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” If adopted, the amendments will improve the Senate bill by doing more to hold down premium increases for all Americans while expanding health care choices for more Americans and their employers.

“At the end of the day, Americans don’t care if a health reform proposal originated with a Democrat or a Republican, what matters to them is that it works,” Senator Wyden said. “I’m proud to join forces with Senator Collins to offer common-sense amendments that will hold down premium costs and make health care more affordable for American families and their employers. As I have long said, the best way to hold down health care costs and make insurance companies accountable is to put Americans in the driver’s seat and empower them to pick the plan that best fits their needs.”

Senator Collins said; “Health care reform should give Americans more choices of affordable health insurance options. That is why I am pleased to have worked closely with Senator Wyden on this bipartisan amendment that would help keep costs down and provide individuals, employers and employees with more health care choices.”

Senators Wyden and Collins are proposing as amendments to the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” the following three amendments:

MORE CHOICES FOR EMPLOYERS AND WORKERS: While the current Senate legislation will eventually make it possible for employers to insure their workforce in the new health insurance exchanges, the legislation does not contain a mechanism to make it possible for employers to offer their workers the ability to choose any plan offered in the exchange. This Wyden-Collins amendment would correct that by making it possible for employers – who want to offer their employees the full range of choices in the exchange – to do just that while increasing competition in the new marketplace:

Under the amendment, any employer that sponsors a health plan would have the option to offer tax-free vouchers to its workers equal to the amount the employer contributes to its own health plan. Workers could then use that voucher to purchase the exchange plan that works best for them and their family. If a worker decides to purchase a less-expensive plan the worker would keep the savings as added income just as workers wanting to purchase more generous plans in the exchange will be able to pay the additional cost out of pocket. Whatever employers pay for vouchers will remain tax deductible for employers and tax free for employees; and while no employer will be required to offer vouchers under the new system, in order to encourage participation, employers who want to offer their employees tax-free vouchers will be given accelerated access to the new health insurance exchanges. Under the amendment, any employer offering its workers vouchers would have access to the exchange in 2015 rather than 2017, which is the schedule for employer access in the bill.

OFFERING MORE CHOICES IN THE EXCHANGE: This amendment will make it possible for individuals, who are not eligible for a subsidy, to purchase a catastrophic plan, regardless of age. Catastrophic plans will typically have much lower premiums than other plans offered through the exchange but subscribers will pay for most of their health care expenses “out-of pocket” up until they exceed their plan’s catastrophic limit.

Americans should have the choice to purchase more affordable coverage, if that is what works best for them. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, individuals up to the age of 30 are eligible to purchase these plans. The Wyden-Collins amendment will extend that option to individuals – not receiving government subsidies – over the age of 30. This amendment would give consumers more choice and help ensure that more people can purchase coverage that fits their needs and is affordable to them.

The amendment includes aggressive disclosure requirements that will require catastrophic subscribers to certify that they understand the terms of the coverage and know that they are purchasing the lowest level of coverage available.

III. HOLDING DOWN PREMIUMS FOR CONSUMERS: Starting in 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will impose an annual fee on insurance companies based on the number of premiums written each year. This amendment will modify that fee to create an incentive for insurers to hold down rates. So, for example, insurance companies that hold down premium increases will pay lower fees, while insurers who jack-up their premiums will pay much higher fees. Starting in 2010 the fee will be varied by as much as 50% based on how aggressively insurers control costs which will give them a strong incentive to hold the line on overhead, executive salaries, provider payments and inefficiency. As under the bill, the total amount of the annual fee will be $6.7 billion per year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Major victory for Senator Collins' effort to lift federal truck weights in Maine

Senate- House conferees approve one-year pilot program
Collins fought to include one year project in final 2010 Transportation Appropriations bill

A Senate-House conference committee late tonight gave final approval to Senator Susan Collins’ provision to create a one-year pilot project that would exempt Maine’s highways from the 80,000 pound federal truck weight limit. Senator Collins, who is the only delegation member from Maine to serve on an Appropriations Committee, has championed this provision. This provision was not included in the original House-passed bill but Senator Collins, who was a member of the Conference Committee, fought hard to have it successfully included in the final Fiscal Year 2010 Transportation Appropriations bill.

“Increasing federal truck weight limits on Maine’s interstates has always been one of my top priorities,” said Senator Collins. “A uniform truck weight limit would keep trucks on the interstates where they belong, rather than on the rural roads that pass through our small towns and villages. A one-year pilot project allowing heavier trucks on the interstates would permit an assessment of the impact of the safety, commerce and road wear and tear. I am delighted that I was able to convince my colleagues on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to allow this pilot project to move forward. I hope that both the House and Senate will give final approval to this bill as quickly as possible and it will be signed by the President.”

In 1994, the U.S. Department of Transportation first notified the State of Maine that it was in violation of federal vehicle weight requirements. Maine’s Congressional delegation has been working since then to change the law, which forces northbound trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds off Interstate 95 in Augusta. As a result, heavy trucks traveling I-95 to Houlton are forced onto smaller, secondary roads that pass through cities, towns, and villages, creating safety concerns.

Senator Collins first raised this issue in June during an Appropriations Committee hearing with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who pledged to help address this issue. Senator Collins then worked with her colleagues on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee to have her provision included in the FY 2010 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.

The FY 2010 Transportation Appropriations conference report must now receive final approval from both the House and Senate. It would then be sent to the President for his signature. The House is scheduled to vote on Thursday.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Health Care Reform Must Not Hurt Small Businesses

Weekly column by Senator Susan Collins

While the national unemployment rate has fallen ever so slightly to ten percent, the fact remains that far too many Americans are still without jobs, and their families continue to struggle during this economic crisis. Government at all levels must do everything possible to help revive the economy by creating and preserving jobs.

Small businesses remain our nation’s job-creation engine. Here in Maine, more than 97 percent of employers are small business, and nearly 120,000 Mainers work for firms with fewer than 20 employees. That is why I am so concerned about the effect the Senate health care bill will have on small businesses, and in turn, on jobs in our State and nation.

The rapidly escalating cost of health care has been particularly burdensome for small businesses, the backbone of our economy. Small businesses want to provide health insurance for their employees, but many simply cannot afford to absorb double-digit increases in their health insurance premiums year after year. The cost is simply too high.

A small business owner in Maine recently e-mailed me to say that: “I just received our renewal proposals for our company. Of course, the plans are all up anywhere from 12 percent to 32 percent on the three plans that we offer. Each year, we increase the deductibles to try to keep premium increases to less than five percent, and this year is no exception.

“You are right when you say that we need to address the cost of health insurance, NOT create another vehicle to deliver the services. The current legislation, as I understand it, totally misses the mark.”

How does this bill help small businesses? On balance, it doesn't. This is the analysis of many, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the nation's leading small business association. In a statement on the health care bill, the NFIB says "this kind of reform is not what we need. “ “New taxes . . . new mandates . . . new entitlement programs . . . paid for on the backs of small business . . . equals disaster,” the NFIB says.

In short, as the title of the NFIB’s statement’s indicates, "The Senate Bill Fails Small Business."

Even where this proposal tries to help small business, it misses the mark. I support the providing tax credits for small businesses to help cover employee health insurance costs, but the credits for small business in the proposal are poorly structured.

Only businesses with no more than ten workers, paying an average of wage of $20,000, can get the maximum tax credit. If a business hires more workers, or pays higher salaries, its credit is phased-out. In other words, this bill discourages small businesses from adding jobs or raising pay. This just doesn’t make sense.

Small businesses want to provide health insurance to their employees as a way to attract and retain good employees. But they are far too often unable to do so because of the high cost.
Not only does this bill do little to address this problem, the bill makes matters worse by imposing $28 billion in new taxes levied on employers with more than 50 employees that cannot afford to offer health insurance.

There is no question that our health care system is broken and in need of reform. I continue to believe that the American public would like to see a bipartisan bill that brings together the best ideas that achieves the goal of lower health care costs, higher value, and better outcomes. That is why I am continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on bipartisan amendments that would make tax credits available to more businesses while eliminating some of the disincentives to hire more workers, as the current bill would do.

Along with Senator Joe Lieberman, I have introduced a package of amendments that would help to constrain costs by improving the health care delivery system. For example, our proposal would penalize hospitals that don’t work to reduce preventable infections, which results in a cost each year of $30 billion to our health care system, not to mention much avoidable suffering. We are also working to create more transparency and more incentives for better health care outcomes, which will in turn, help lower health care costs.

It is critical that the Senate keep working toward an alternative health care reform proposal that reduces health care costs, improves outcomes, and equally important, enhances, not hinders the ability of small businesses to succeed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Senator Collins questions Administration officials on Afghanistan plan

One day after President Obama announced plans to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Senator Susan Collins questioned Administration officials about the way forward. Senator Collins is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that, today, held the first Congressional oversight hearing on the President’s proposal.

Witnesses included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen.

Senator Collins, who has traveled to Afghanistan four times, most recently last August, asked Secretary Gates why the Administration feels it is critical to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan when al-Qaida currently has a presence in as many as 20 countries, including Yemen where an al-Qaida cell launched a successful attack on the American Embassy in September 2008.

“How will it make us safer to invest more troops and more treasure in Afghanistan as long as al-Qaida still has the ability to establish safe havens in other countries?,” asked Senator Collins.

Secretary Gates responded that al-Qaida’s presence in the border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan is “still the well-spring of inspiration ground for extremist jihadism everywhere. The fact is the inspiration and the guidance and strategic leadership comes from the al-Qaida leadership in that area.”

Senator Collins then questioned Secretary of State Clinton and asked whether she believes the United States can succeed in Afghanistan, given the tremendous obstacles, “despite the brilliance of our leaders, the courage of our troops, and the efforts of the civilian component.”

“Is this an impossible task? We have a corrupt and ineffective government as a partner in Afghanistan. We have seen, in the past two years, even with the presence of NATO troops, the government lose control of much of the country. Can this work?” asked Senator Collins.

“We believe it can. This is a critical question,” Secretary Clinton responded.

Senator Collins has said that she continues to have questions about the impact of deploying more American combat troops to Afghanistan. But she agrees with the President that it is crucial that the U.S. help expand the size of the Afghan Army and that any surge of American troops must be accompanies by a surge in Afghan troops.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Calais border crossing officially opened

Bangor Daily News -
The United States held official dedication ceremonies at its newest border crossing Monday at the port of entry in Calais, the sister port to another new facility on the St. Stephen, New Brunswick, side of the St. Croix River.

Sen. Susan Collins labeled the crossing “our new front door” and said it opened the way to economic development opportunities and reinforced the close relationship between Maine and New Brunswick.

Collins said the project, which will allow all commercial traffic to bypass downtown Calais, used $77 million in federal funding. She said Maine’s congressional delegation members often are called “dogs on a bone” because of their tenacity in seeking funding.

“Our borders must be closed to our enemies but open to our friends,” she said. New Brunswick and Maine share friends, family, medical services and an economy, she said.

The new crossing will alleviate lengthy delays at the Ferry Point and Milltown crossings in Calais, which will remain open for passenger vehicle traffic.

“The congestion and delays there were no longer acceptable,” Collins said. The new port stands on 53 acres while the Ferry Point port, built in the early 1900s, is just more than an acre.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Fort Hood Attack: A Preliminary Assessment

Weekly column by Senator Collins

In investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Commission discovered vital information scattered throughout the government that might have prevented the deaths and destruction of that terrible day if only the dots had been connected. 
In the wake of the mass murder at Fort Hood, our nation once again must confront a troubling question: Was this another failure to connect the dots?  
Much has been done since 9-11-01 to respond to the failures exposed by those attacks. We created the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), additional Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and fusion centers. We revised information sharing policies and promoted greater cooperation among intelligence and law enforcement agencies. 
The results have been significant. Terrorist plots, both at home and abroad, have been thwarted. The recent arrest in Denver of a suspected al Qaeda terror cell operative demonstrates the benefits of information sharing and joint efforts by the NCTC and other intelligence agencies, as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement.
But the shootings at Fort Hood may indicate that communication failures and poor judgment calls can defeat systems intended to ensure that vital information is shared to protect our country and its citizens. This case also raises questions about whether or not restrictive rules have a chilling effect on the legitimate dissemination of information, making it too difficult to connect the dots that would have allowed a clear picture of the threat to emerge.
As Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I joined Chairman Lieberman in the first Congressional examination of this terrible tragedy. Our ongoing investigation will seek answers to questions such as how did our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies handle intercepted communications between Major Hasan and a radical cleric and known al Qaeda associate? Did they contact anyone in Major Hasan’s chain of command to relay concerns? Did they seek to interview Major Hasan himself?
When Major Hasan reportedly began to openly question the oath that he had taken to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, did anyone in his military chain of command intervene?
When Major Hasan, in his 2007 presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, recommended that the Department of Defense allow “Muslim soldiers the option of being released as ‘conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events,” did his colleagues and superior officers view this statement as a red flag?
Were numerous warning signs ignored because the Army faces a shortage of psychiatrists and was concerned, as the Army Chief of Staff has subsequently put it, about a “backlash against Muslim soldiers?”
For nearly four years, our Committee has been investigating the threat of homegrown terrorism. We have explored radicalization in our prisons, the cycle of violent radicalization, and how the Internet can act as a “virtual terrorist training camp.” We have warned that individuals within the United States can be inspired by al Qaeda’s violent ideology to plan and execute attacks even if they do not receive direct orders from al Qaeda to do so. And we have learned of the difficulty of detecting “lone wolf” terrorists.
To prevent future homegrown terrorist attacks, we must understand why our law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and our military personnel system may have failed in this case. 
Major Hasan’s attack targeted innocent soldiers and civilians regardless of their religious faith. These patriotic soldiers and civilians were injured and killed not on a foreign battleground but rather on what should have been safe and secure American territory.
With so many questions still swirling around this heinous attack, it is important for the nation to understand what happened so that we may work to prevent future incidents. We owe that to our brave and dedicated troops, to their families and communities, and to all Americans. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Boosting Deepwater, Offshore Wind Research

Weekly column by Senator Susan Collins

Here in Maine, we pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. These high prices are not only difficult for residential customers, but they are also an impediment to doing business in our state. During a recent tour of National Semiconductor in South Portland, company officials told me that the high cost of electricity is their number one issue in terms of adding jobs in Maine versus other states.

I believe that deepwater, offshore wind has enormous potential to help us meet our nation’s electricity needs and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But, it also presents an exciting opportunity for the State of Maine to help stabilize high electricity rates and create much-needed, good-paying “green jobs.”

I am introducing legislation that would require the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program of research, development, demonstration and commercial application to advance offshore wind turbine technology. This bill would advance the goal of the Department of Energy to produce 20 percent of our nation’s electricity from wind resources by 2030.

Sixty-one percent of our country’s wind resource is in deepwater, greater than 197 feet depth. Winds at these offshore locations, out-of-sign from land, are stronger and more consistent than closer to shore or on land. It will, however, take technological advances to harness this energy efficiently and cost-effectively.

My bill would focus national efforts to develop offshore wind technologies. This should be a national priority because it can produce clean, renewable energy for major U.S. population centers. The 28 coastal states use 78 percent of the electricity in the U.S. For example, Maine’s offshore wind resource is close to the 55 million people live in New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. This is 18 percent of the total U.S. population.

Developing cost-competitive offshore wind technology will require improvements in the efficiency, reliability, and capacity of offshore wind turbines and reductions in the cost of manufacturing, construction, deployment, generation, and maintenance of offshore wind energy systems. That is why my bill would direct the Secretary of Energy to support existing university centers, like the new one at the University of Maine, and establish other centers to support research, development, demonstration and commercial application. The bill would authorize $50 million annually over ten years for:

* the design, demonstration, and deployment of advanced wind turbine foundations and support structures, blades, turbine systems, components, and supporting land- and water-based infrastructure for application in shallow water, transitional depth, and deep water offshore;
* full-scale testing and establishment of regional demonstrations of offshore wind components and systems to validate technology and performance;
* assessments of U.S. offshore wind resources, environmental impacts and benefits, siting and permitting issues, exclusion zones, and transmission needs for inclusion in a publically accessible database;.
* design, demonstration, and deployment of integrated sensors, actuators and advanced materials, such as composite materials;
* advanced blade manufacturing activity, such as automation, materials, and assembly of large-scale components, to stimulate the development of a U.S.-blade manufacturing capacity;
* methods to assess and mitigate the effects of wind energy systems on marine ecosystems and marine industries; and
* other research areas as determined by the Secretary.

Maine is already leading the way when it comes to deepwater, offshore wind research. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced an $8 million grant for research at the University of Maine. In addition, the final version of the 2010 Energy and Water Appropriations bill included $5 million that I secured for the Maine Offshore Wind Initiative at UMaine. The State of Maine has also committed its own funding and policy initiatives toward supporting a deepwater, offshore wind research center at the University.

This is a critical investment in Maine’s future. Estimates are that development of five gigawatts of offshore wind in Maine – enough to power more than 1 million homes for a year -- could attract $20 billion of investment to the state and create more than 15,000 green energy jobs that will be sustained over 30 years. Maine has the manufacturing infrastructure and workforce to partner with the University to make this new industry of deepwater offshore wind technology a reality.

My bill would further support important renewable energy research that would help reduce our use of fossil fuels, improve our energy security, and help stabilize electricity rates. This is a great technological challenge, but we must begin to make the investments now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Senate Homeland Security Committee to hold hearings on Ft. Hood attack

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., formally announced on Monday that their Committee will be conducting an investigation into last week’s murders at Ft. Hood, beginning with a public hearing next week.

The Senators released the following statements today on their inquiry and intention to hold hearings on the attack:

“This murderous attack should be examined from every angle to make sure nothing like this occurs again,” Lieberman said. “While we in no way will interfere with the Army or FBI’s criminal investigations, the Committee will be conducting an investigation into what Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s motives were, whether the government missed warning signs that should have led to expulsion, and what lessons we can learn to prevent such future attacks. As this investigation continues, we would do no favor to the thousands of Muslim Americans who are serving our military with honor and the millions of patriotic and law-abiding Muslim Americans by ignoring real evidence that an individual Muslim American soldier may have become a violent Islamist extremist.

“Three years ago, this Committee, then led by Senator Collins, started an investigation into the threat of homegrown Islamist terrorism. That resulted in a bipartisan report concluding ‘no longer is the [terrorist] threat just from abroad, as was the case with the attacks of September 11, 2001; the threat is now increasingly from within, from homegrown terrorists who are inspired by violent Islamist ideology to plan and execute attacks where they live.’ This attack, in addition to recent cases in Minnesota, Arkansas, North Carolina and elsewhere, appears to be a further example of that threat. At a September 2007 hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Committee that ‘lone wolf’ terrorists were of particular concern to law enforcement and that we needed to take steps to address that particular threat. The United States needs to heed his warning.”

Senator Collins said: “The Fort Hood slayings were tragic and heartbreaking. It is important for our nation to understand what precipitated this horrific attack so that we may work to prevent future incidents. The investigation is about understanding the factors that led Major Hasan—a senior Army officer and a psychiatrist trained to ease human suffering—to kill and injure so many of his fellow soldiers. We owe that to our military, to their families, and to their communities.

“Our military must be prepared to detect the warning signs for potential violence and to intervene and prevent similar attacks in the future,” she said. “This hearing is vital to assuring the men and women serving in our military and their families that their safety is a top priority for us.

“Let me express my personal gratitude to the thousands of American Muslims serving in our military and working to defeat terrorism. Any of them could have been another victim of Major Hasan’s attack,” Collins noted.”

Since December 2006, the Committee has held nine hearings on the threat of homegrown terrorism. In May 2008, the Committee released a report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Snowe, Collins Announce $9.4 Million for Verso Paper Corporation

Funding Will Boost Energy Efficient Projects for Paper Mills in Jay and Bucksport

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins (R-Maine) today announced the U.S. Department of Energy will award Verso Paper Corporation $9, 356, 177 in federal funding to assist with the deployment of waste energy recovery technologies at three paper mills including those located in Jay and Bucksport. The funding is being distributed to Maine through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Senators Snowe and Collins worked with a bipartisan group of senators to craft the legislation that became law in February.

“This funding award will provide the Verso plants in Jay and Bucksport with the resources they need to stay competitive in the 21st century global economy, improve energy efficiency and create good-paying jobs in Maine,” said Senators Snowe and Collins in a joint statement. “Reducing our consumption of energy at these facilities will keep these mills competitive with international competition, reduces carbon emissions, and builds on the company’s effort to invest in the mills that continue to be a bedrock to the Jay and Bucksport communities. We are pleased the Department of Energy recognized Verso for such critical assistance.”

Earlier this year, both Senators Snowe and Collins in a letter, urged Energy Secretary Steven Chu to support Verso’s application for the funding, which will be used to implement 12 waste energy recovery sub-projects at Verso paper mills located in Jay, Maine; Bucksport, Maine; and Sartell Minnesota. The sub-projects were chosen for their energy savings potential for immediate implementation. The bundled project will save an estimated 1.28 trillion British Thermal Units (Btu) annually.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Senate approves $10 million fo Maine projects in Interior Appropriations conference report

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, announced that the Senate approved the fiscal year (FY) 2010 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations conference report by a vote of 72-28. This bill includes $10 million in federal funding that Senator Collins successfully secured for Maine projects.

The bill, which passed the House earlier today, will now be sent to the President for his signature.

“The Interior Appropriations bill includes important funding Maine’s lakes, parks, National Park and national wildlife refuges, water and sewer infrastructure, and land preservation,” said Senator Collins. “This funding will help protect and preserve the natural beauty of our state.”

$3.3 million of this funding was not included in the original House version of the bill, including funding for the Saint Joseph’s College milfoil project, rehabilitation of Deering Oaks Park in Portland, Maine Coastal Islands’ seabird nesting project, and the Limestone Water and Sewer District. However, Senator Collins, who is the only member of Maine’s delegation to serve on an Appropriations Committee was successful in ensuring that these dollars were included as part of both the Senate and final versions of the Interior spending bill.

Full funding for Maine projects in the bill is as follows:

* $3,000,000 for Trust for Public Land, Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The Rachel Carson NWR has an opportunity to acquire, at below cost, a longstanding priority property in Kennebunkport called Timber Point. This 110 acre property includes 2.25 miles of undeveloped coastline, upland forests, wetlands and marshes that provide critical habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Permanent protection of the entire 110 acres, on over which the refuge already owns a conservation easement covering more than 45 acres, would ensure public access to Maine's coastline in a highly developed part of the state. Finally, refuge acquisition of the Timber Point property will protect nationally significant estuarine and marine resources, ensure habitat protection for migratory waterfowl and seabirds, and protect the water quality at a nearby public swimming beach. Federal funds will be matched by privately raised donations. This funding was included in the President’s FY 2010 budget request.

* $500,000 for Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, Maine Lakes Invasive Species/Habitat Restoration Initiative. These funds would help support a public-private partnership between Saint Joseph’s College of Maine; two major Maine Lake Associations; and volunteer organizations at Maine lakes. This partnership would launch a comprehensive attack on the threat that milfoil, a dangerous invasive plant species, poses to the 6,000 lakes in the State of Maine. The focus will be on the milfoil infestation threat in Little Sebago Lake and six other lakes as a “test bed” for the development of milfoil action plans for other Maine lakes.

* $1,250,000 for City of Portland, Deering Oaks Park Rehabilitation. This would provide for the design and construction of the infrastructure improvements to address the environmental and public health risks caused by combined sewer overflows (CSO) and storm water runoff which pollute Deering Oaks Pond and create a blighting impact on the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Deering Oaks Park, where the Pond is located, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, due to CSO problems, the Pond is deteriorating and poses an environmental and public health risk. Water quality tests show high levels of coliform bacteria which requires the City to restrict or prohibit people from using the pond.

* $1,000,000 for Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Maine Seabird Nesting Islands. The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge is seeking to acquire five Nationally Significant Seabird Nesting Islands and a key parcel on a sixth island. These six nesting locations are scattered among a collection of more than 4,500 islands, of which 377 have been designated as Nationally Significant Seabird Nesting sites by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Adding this wildlife habitat to the refuge will help the Fish & Wildlife service meet its many obligations, including ensuring the health and welfare of seabird species and conducting research. By adding this wildlife habitat to the refuge, it will help the Fish & Wildlife Service better meet its many obligations, including ensuring the health and welfare of seabird species and conducting research.

* $550,000 for Limestone Water & Sewer District, Greater Limestone Regional Wastewater Treatment Facilities. The proposed project is the second phase of upgrading the Limestone Water & Sewer District’s wastewater treatment facility (formerly part of Loring Air Force Base.) The improvements are new pipes and pumping stations. It also will include installation of energy efficient and green (solar voltaic panels) equipment for the effluent pump station. These upgrades will assist the Loring Development Authority to attract new industry and possibly reactivate an existing power plant. This will also allow for the waste discharge to be removed from the Little Madawaska River which will improve trout and salmon fishing and water quality as well as minimize increases in sewer user fees and bring the facility into compliance with the MEDEP Toxic Reduction Evaluation Program. These industries would create temporary and permanent jobs as well as tax revenue for local communities and the state.

* $3,700,000 for Maine Department of Conservation, Katahdin Forest Expansion through the Forest Legacy Program This is the number two ranked Forest Legacy project in the President’s budget request. This will provide matching funds to state and local resources for the easement and fee protection of 19,647 acres of undeveloped lake front and forest land in a portion of the country valued for its forests and associated natural resources. The Katahdin Forest Expansion project area includes five parcels totaling 19,647 acres in the heart of Maine’s Northwoods and will connect to existing recreation and conservation lands north and south of Millinocket. It complements and enhances previous federal investment in land protection around Baxter State Park. In addition, the viewshed from the summit of Mount Katahdin and the federally designated Appalachian Trail will be protected. The tracts include portions of popular snowmobile and ATV trails, and the Seboeis area also hosts ATV trails.

Report Language for Mercury Monitoring

Senator Collins also worked to a provision in the bill encouraging EPA to continue its work to coordinate a monitoring network for mercury.

Remembering our nation's veterans

Weekly column by Senator Collins

For more than two centuries, young Americans have left the comfort and security of home in order to preserve our freedom and to extend the blessings of freedom to others. Veterans Day is a solemn anniversary-- a day set aside not to celebrate victory in a great battle, but to honor the sacrifice that brought peace. The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was not marked by the roar of cannon. Rather, it was the moment the guns were silenced by courage, devotion to duty, and a commitment to freedom.
The virtues that brought about that silence echo through the ages. It is appropriate that Veterans Day now honors all who have defended our nation. Whether they serve in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard, or the Merchant Marine, whether they serve in the regular forces, the National Guard or the Reserves, they sacrificed much to serve our country.
It was my father who taught me to honor our veterans. A World War II veteran, my father earned his Purple Heart when he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. From my father, I learned that the heroes who wear the uniforms of America’s armed forces are peace-loving, caring men and women who put aside the comforts of civilian life to advance the cause of freedom.
The men and women we honor on Veterans Day have paid the price of our freedom in times of conflict, and they are our shield in times of peace. We honor those who paid the ultimate price.  We honor those who lived beyond their years of military service and returned home. And we honor those who serve today. We owe them all a great debt.
We repay that debt in part with the gratitude we express on Veterans Day, but only in part.  Today, nearly 24 million Americans proudly wear the title of veteran.  There are more than 136,000 veterans right here in our great state of Maine.   In addition to our gratitude, we must also repay our debt with health care, rehabilitation services, educational and employment opportunities that our veterans have earned by their sacrifice to our country.  As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I support the Fiscal Year 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.  The Senate version includes $53.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, including $50 million for a new Rural Clinic Initiative to help provide additional Community Based Outreach Clinics in rural areas such as Maine.  The bill also includes $250 million to continue a Rural Health Initiative, created last year, that is specifically aimed at improving medical care for veterans in rural areas.
We are fortunate to live in a state in which so many have served our nation with honor, and in which so many join together to honor those who serve. From the Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport to the many citizens who volunteer countless hours to helping and supporting our vets, to the veterans service organizations, the people of Maine have always expressed our gratitude with generosity and a spirit of caring.
As we honor those who serve, we should also remember the parents, the wives and husbands, the children and other loved ones of our veterans and our troops. The families left behind must face the challenges of daily living as they endure the separation and the relentless worry. Their sacrifices are great, and we must thank them as well.
The Americans we honor on Veterans Day fought for the security of our nation, and for benefit of mankind. Those who serve today – the veterans of tomorrow – carry on this great mission.   They have earned our deepest thanks, not just on Veterans Day, but for all the days to come.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Senator Collins demands urgent explanation of H1N1 vaccine shortages, delays

In a letter Monday to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked for urgent explanations on the availability of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Her letter follows the committee’s recent hearing, “H1N1 Flu: Monitoring the Nation’s Response,” held Oct. 21 to examine safety, supply and delivery issues.
In her letter Monday, Senator Collins, R-Maine, expressed additional concerns and questioned why some of the vaccines won’t arrive until after people have been infected with the virus. Senator Collins requested answers to her inquires by Friday. The full text of the letter follows:

The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Sebelius:

As the President acknowledged just a few days ago, the nation is facing an emergency in responding to the H1N1 epidemic. A primary concern for nearly every American at this time is the lack of sufficient vaccine supply even for those at high risk for serious complications, including children, young adults, and pregnant women. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) originally projected that it would have at least 40 million doses available by the end of October. More recently, however, HHS downgraded this amount to just 28 to 30 million doses by that time. As I pointed out to you last week at the H1N1 hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the lack of sufficient supply is alarming.

I am troubled that HHS has assured the public since August that the government would have enough vaccine to meet demand. It now appears that much of the vaccine could arrive only after many people have already been infected with H1N1. Indeed, an October 15, 2009 Purdue University study predicts that nearly 60 percent of the American population will be infected with H1N1, that a third of them will fall ill, and most disturbingly, that the peak week of infection was this past week. It seems that HHS gave its assurance of sufficient supply in August without adequate information to make such a commitment. In addition, HHS should have noted that an adequate supply also depended on whether one or two doses were needed for the vaccine to be effective – something that was not known until September.

Before our Committee, you stated that delays in production were due to problems in the manufacturing process that have now been corrected. To ensure that actions are taken to address fully the delays in providing the vaccine to the public, I ask that you respond to the following questions by October 30th:

• What is HHS's revised schedule for distributing the full 250 million doses of H1N1 vaccine?
• When does HHS expect that there will be enough vaccine to meet the needs of all those who are in the priority groups?
• What is the estimate of the number of doses of H1N1 vaccine required to vaccinate those in the high-risk groups?
• How will HHS ensure that the currently limited supply reaches those groups in an expedited manner?
• What actions is HHS taking to recover ground lost due to the prior production delays?

There are longer-term issues as well that affect our response capability. Most experts agree that a significant limiting factor in the production of any type of flu vaccine is our dependence on egg-based production rather than cell-based technology to produce the vaccine more quickly. How soon does HHS anticipate that the United States government can shift to cell-based technology for the production of flu vaccine? What effort is HHS making to ensure that this shift in production occurs rapidly and safely?

Of the five manufacturers of the H1N1 vaccine, only one is based in the United States while the other four are foreign. In the case of a pandemic, a foreign vaccine producer will likely be compelled to prioritize the bulk of their production for their own country's consumption. What investment or policy changes should the United States undertake to ensure that the U.S. can manufacture a sufficient percentage of flu vaccine domestically?

Should you have any questions about this letter, please contact me directly or have your staff contact Asha Mathew on my Committee staff at (202) 224-8432. I look forward to your prompt response.


Susan M. Collins
Ranking Member

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Collins Demands Explanation for H1N1 Vaccine Shortage

from MPBN:

Maine Senator Susan Collins is demanding to know why there are shortages of the H1N1 vaccine. Collins sent a letter Monday to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, asking her to explain why there are fewer doses of the vaccine than federal officials had originally projected.

Collins, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questioned why some of the vaccines won't arrive until after people have become infected with the virus.

In her letter, Collins said the tight supplies of the H1N1 vaccine is "alarming." She said HHS originally projected 40 million doses of the vaccine by the end of October, and only 28 to 30 million doses have materialized.

"I am troubled that HHS has assured the public since August that the government would have enough vaccine to meet demand," Collins writes in the letter. "It now appears that much of the vaccine could arrive only after many people have already been infected with H1N1."

Read the full letter >>

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Senator Collins announces $95.9 million for CMP smart grid

U.S. Senator Susan Collins today announced that the Central Maine Power Company will receive $95,900,000 in Smart Grid grant funding from the Department of Energy. The funding will be used to install a “smart meter” network for all residential, commercial and industrial customers in CMP’s service territory - approximately 650,000 meters.

“Smart meter technology will accelerate CMP’s plans to complete its Advanced Metering Infrastructure and allow customers to see in “real time” how much electricity they are using,” said Senator Collins. “Customers could then make informed decisions to decrease their usage during peak load times therefore reducing energy consumption and saving money.”

In a letter sent to the Department of Energy last month, Senator Collins strongly supported CMP’s application for this funding. In the letter, Senator Collins wrote that CMP has a longstanding working relationship with the Maine Public Utilities Commission, and has assembled an experienced team of project managers, subject matter experts, vendors and external consultants to complete the necessary installation of the “smart meter” network.

This funding is included in a $3.4 billion investment in Smart Grid technology being announced today by the President. It’s the largest single Smart Grid modernization investment in U.S. history. The funds are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which Senator Collins worked to craft earlier this year and will be matched by industry funding for a total public-private investment worth more than $8 billion.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Maine delegation asks for federal assistance for Maine shellfish industry

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins and Representatives Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, in a letter, urged the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to heed to Governor John E. Baldacci’s request for federal assistance and declare a fisheries disaster for the Maine shellfish industry.

“Last spring and summer, the shellfish industry in Maine experienced a severe economic crisis as a result of the closure of 97% of the State’s shellfish beds and 100% of the offshore beds in federal waters,” the delegation wrote. “The shellfish industry is vital to Maine’s economy. Approximately 3,000 harvesters and dealers depend directly upon access to healthy shellfish beds to make their living and support their families. Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) estimates total annual economic value of this industry in Maine at $50 million, with the largest proportion of that value coming from May through August. We once again urge you to consider declaring a fisheries disaster for the Maine shellfish industry and immediately make funds available under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and any other assistance you can provide.”

*Full Copy of the Letter Follows:

October 19, 2009

The Honorable Gary Locke, Secretary
Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Locke:

Last spring and summer, the shellfish industry in Maine experienced a severe economic crisis as a result of the closure of 97% of the State’s shellfish beds and 100% of the offshore beds in federal waters. These closures due to extensive rainfall and a subsequent, severe outbreak of a harmful algal bloom known as red tide have impacted the shellfish industry and coastal economy far more drastically than similar events occurring in 2005 and 2008. In those years, Maine received disaster declarations and Federal financial assistance for red tide-related fisheries failures. On October 5, 2009, Maine’s Governor John E. Baldacci formally requested assistance for the Maine shellfish industry under section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. We strongly support the Governor’s request for assistance to this industry so vital to the State of Maine.

The fisheries failure of this past spring and summer was not a product of overharvesting, overly restrictive regulatory measures, or other management actions. Rather, it was due to the overabundance of the naturally occurring toxin Alexandrium, exacerbated by the wettest summer in Maine’s recorded history. At its peak, the density of this toxin was nearly 100 times the federally mandated quarantine level, a concentration not seen since the early 1980s. The closure of these shellfish beds, some of which remained in effect until September, was justified in the interest of maintaining public safety, but could not have come at a worse time for Mainers dependent on the shellfish resource. Further, because this failure came as a result of natural oceanic and meteorological occurrences, a disaster declaration and subsequent allocation of relief funding will not cause any expansion of this failure, and may help mitigate the impact of future red tide events.

The shellfish industry is vital to Maine’s economy. Approximately 3,000 harvesters and dealers depend directly upon access to healthy shellfish beds to make their living and support their families. Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) estimates total annual economic value of this industry in Maine at $50 million, with the largest proportion of that value coming from May through August. On July 23, 2009 NOAA awarded $121,000 to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Maine to conduct cruises to monitor the extent and magnitude of the red tide outbreak. We sincerely appreciate this investment and recognize this commitment to reducing the impacts of this disaster. Yet, while this emergency funding was justified and hastened reopening of some areas, it did not address the ongoing concerns of the hard-working shellfishermen who rely on this income to carry them through Maine’s long, cold winter.

We once again urge you to consider declaring a fisheries disaster for the Maine shellfish industry and immediately make funds available under Section 312(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, and any other assistance you can provide. We look forward to your expeditious response to Governor Baldacci’s request and thank you on behalf of the people of Maine.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Senator Collins on Fox- health care reform

Senator Collins was on Fox and Friends discussing the health care reform debate:

Senator Collins on Hardball

Senator Collins discusses the health care reform debate on Hardball with Chris Matthews:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Senator Collins' statement on health care reform debate

As the U.S. Senate moves forward in the health care reform debate, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) today released this statement:

“There simply is no question that our nation’s health care system requires substantial reform. The status quo of soaring health care costs, families struggling, millions uninsured, and health care provider shortages is unacceptable. Maine families and small businesses are paying ever higher premiums, increased deductibles and greater co-pays.

“Due, in large measure, to the efforts of Senator Olympia Snowe, who has worked tirelessly, the legislation passed by the Senate Finance Committee represents a substantial improvement over the costly and flawed alternative approved by the Senate Health Committee as well as the House bills.

“Nevertheless, the Senate Finance Committee’s bill falls short of the goal of providing access to more affordable health care for all Americans. The goal of health care reform must be to rein in costs and provide consumers with more affordable choices. Yet, many individuals and families would be forced to pay more for their health care under the Finance Committee bill, and they would have fewer choices. Our health care reform efforts should give Americans more, not fewer, choices of affordable coverage options.

“This bill also could lead to onerous financial penalties for small businesses that are already struggling to provide affordable health insurance to their employees. As structured, the bill actually could discourage small businesses from adding more jobs.

“I am troubled that the legislation would cut nearly $500 billion from Medicare, which provides care for our oldest Americans and our most vulnerable citizens. These cuts would adversely affect the ability of Maine’s hospitals and other health care providers to provide essential services to Medicare patients. Medicare, which is so critically important to our nation’s seniors, is already in financial trouble. It should not be the piggy bank for new spending programs when revenues are needed to shore up the current program.

“Finally, I am disappointed that the Finance Committee did not focus more on cost containment, which should have been one of the most important goals of this bill. For example, the legislation contains no meaningful medical liability reforms to reduce frivolous lawsuits and reduce the costly practice of defensive medicine. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that medical liability reform could save $54 billion in health care costs over the next decade. And the bill should do more to reform the health care delivery system in ways that would curb costs and improve the quality of care.

“I share the goal of passing responsible health care reform and, working with members on both sides of the aisle who share these concerns, I am hopeful that many improvements will continue to be made to produce a bill that can achieve bipartisan support. Our goal should be legislation that protects affordable health care choices, safeguards Medicare, and reduces costs to the consumer and the taxpayer especially at a time when we simply cannot afford to pay more.”

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Senator Collins secures major provision to assist Brunswick Naval Air Station redevelopment

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a conferee on the Senate Defense Authorization bill, has successfully convinced her colleagues to support a critical provision that will help accelerate the transfer of excess military property, and reduce the cost, or even make no-cost transfers, to communities hurt by base closures, including Brunswick.

Specifically, language included in the final version of the bill states “the transfer of property may be for consideration at or below the estimated fair market value or without consideration. The determination of such consideration may account for the economic conditions of the local affected community and the estimated costs to redevelop the property.”

“I am delighted that my colleagues on the conference committee approved my request to include
No Cost Economic Development Conveyance language in the final version of the Defense Authorization bill,” said Senator Collins. “This legislation is critical to the timely and successful redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station. This legislation will help Local Redevelopment Authorities to obtain properties at lower than market value, or perhaps even at no cost, and will be a cornerstone of implementing the master reuse plan for the base.

“These new provisions will provide the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority with additional tools to attract new businesses to the region and accelerate the redevelopment process. This will result in increased job opportunities for our skilled and dedicated workers and help to mitigate the very serious economic challenges created by the base’s closure. I fought hard to obtain these provisions in my work with the Senate Armed Services Committee, and I am truly delighted with the outcome.

Senator Collins added, “I would also like to thank Steve Levesque, the Executive Director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority for his outstanding leadership on this initiative both in Maine and nationally through his work with the Association of Defense Communities.”

Earlier this year, Senators Collins and Olympia Snowe wrote to the President urging support for a provision that would increase the utilization of no-cost economic development conveyances as a tool for property disposal.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Senator Collins presented with "Friend of the First Amendment" award

In recognition of her continued efforts to improve open government at the federal level, The Maine Association of Broadcasters has honored U.S. Senator Susan Collins with its “Friend of the First Amendment Award.”

The award was presented during a ceremony in Augusta on Saturday, October 3.

Photo (L to R) - Suzanne Gaucher, President and CEO of the Maine Association of Broadcasters, Senator Collins, and Jon van Hoogenstyn, Chairman of Board of the Maine Association of Broadcasters

Senator Collins receives award from Stillwater Society

Senator Collins with Severin Beliveau (left) and University of Maine President Robert Kennedy

In May 2001, the Stillwater Society began awarding The Stillwater Presidential Award for Achievement. This award honors exceptional achievement by members of the University of Maine family. Nearly 20 alumni have been recognized for their achievements to date. The award is bestowed by the president of the University of Maine on behalf of the Stillwater Society. Friday night Senator Collins received this award and Severin Beliveau introduced her.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Senator Collins welcomes Maine troop greeters to Capitol Hill

U.S. Senator Susan Collins hosted a special Capitol Hill screening of “The Way We Get By,” a moving documentary that tells the emotional and very personal story of three dedicated troop greeters at Bangor International Airport. During a reception held prior to the screening of the film, Senator Collins introduced the filmmakers and the film’s subjects—Bill Knight, Jerry Mundy, and Joan Gaudet to Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden. Dr. Biden is a Blue Star Mother whose son, Beau, returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq last Friday.

Senator Collins then introduced Dr. Biden to the audience that gathered, including Maine’s Adjutant General, Major General John Libby, and Dr. Biden introduced the film.

For more information on "The Way We Get By", click here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Senator Collins' statement on Iran

U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today released this statement following President Obama’s statement on Iran’s secret nuclear fuel plant:

The revelation that Iran has indeed been developing a covert nuclear facility for several years should prompt the international community to impose tough economic and diplomatic sanctions as many of us in Congress have urged for some time. Stronger sanctions are a critical tool to help thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Senators express concern with number of 'czars' in Adminstration

In a letter to the President, Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questions the number of “czars” within the Executive Office. In the letter, Senator Collins expresses concern that the growing number of czars may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress. The letter was also signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Kit Bond (R-MO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Bob Bennett (R-UT).

The full text of the letter is as follows:
September 14, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our growing concern with the proliferation of “czars” in your Administration. These positions raise serious issues of accountability, transparency, and oversight. The creation of “czars,” particularly within the Executive Office of the President, circumvents the constitutionally established process of “advise and consent,” greatly diminishes the ability of Congress to conduct oversight and hold officials accountable, and creates confusion about which officials are responsible for policy decisions.

To be clear, we do not consider every position identified in various reports as a “czar” to be problematic. Positions established by law or subject to Senate confirmation, such as the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, do not raise the same kinds of concerns as positions that you have established within the Executive Office of the President that are largely insulated from effective Congressional oversight. We also recognize that Presidents are entitled to surround themselves with experts who can serve as senior advisors.

Many “czars” you have appointed, however, either duplicate or dilute the statutory authority and responsibilities that Congress has conferred upon Cabinet-level officers and other senior Executive branch officials. When established within the White House, these “czars” can hinder the ability of Congress to oversee the complex substantive issues that you have unilaterally entrusted to their leadership. Whether in the White House or elsewhere, the authorities of these advisors are essentially undefined. They are not subject to the Senate’s constitutional “advice and consent” role, including the Senate’s careful review of the character and qualifications of the individuals nominated by the President to fill the most senior positions within our government. Indeed, many of these new “czars” appear to occupy positions of greater responsibility and authority than many of the officials who have been confirmed by the Senate to fill positions within your Administration.

With these concerns in mind, we have identified at least 18 “czar” positions created by your Administration whose reported responsibilities may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress or express statutory assignments of responsibility to other Executive branch officials. With regard to each of these positions, we ask that you explain:

• the specific authorities and responsibilities of the position, including any limitations you have placed on the position to ensure that it does not encroach on the legitimate statutory responsibilities of other Executive branch officials;

• the process by which the Administration examines the character and qualifications of the individuals appointed by the President to fill the position; and,

• whether the individual occupying the position will agree to any reasonable request to appear before, or provide information to, Congress.

We also urge you to refrain from creating similar additional positions or making appointments to any vacant “czar” positions until you have fully consulted with the appropriate Congressional committees.

Finally, we ask that you reconsider your approach of centralizing authority at the White House. Congress has grappled repeatedly with the question of how to organize the federal government. We have worked to improve the Department of Homeland Security and bring together the disparate law enforcement, intelligence, emergency response, and security components that form its core. We established the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate the activities of the 16 elements of the Intelligence Community, breaking down barriers to cooperation that led to intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The bipartisan review by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee of the failures associated with the response to Hurricane Katrina led to fundamental reforms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, improving our nation’s preparedness and ability to respond to disasters. In each of these cases, the Congress’s proposed solution did not consolidate power in a single czar locked away in a White House office. Instead, working in a bipartisan fashion, we created a transparent framework of accountable leaders with the authorities necessary to accomplish their vital missions.

If you believe action is needed to address other failures or impediments to successful coordination within the Executive branch, we ask that you consult carefully with Congress prior to establishing any additional “czar” positions or filling any existing vacancies in these positions. We stand ready to work with you to address these challenges and to provide our nation’s most senior leaders with the legitimacy necessary to do their jobs – without furthering the accountability, oversight, vetting, and transparency shortcomings associated with “czars.”


Susan M. Collins
U.S. Senator

Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator

Christopher S. Bond
U.S. Senator

Mike Crapo
U.S. Senator

Pat Roberts
U.S. Senator

Robert F. Bennett
U.S. Senator

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Senator Collins' statement on President's health care address

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins tonight released this statement following the President’s address to Congress.

“The problem of providing affordable access to quality health care for all Americans is one of the most significant domestic challenges facing our country. It affects every American and one-sixth of our economy.

“I continue to believe that addressing growing health care costs must be at the center of any health care reform legislation. The high cost is the major barrier to coverage for the uninsured and the reason why so many small businesses and middle-income families are struggling with the escalating cost of health insurance. Soaring costs also are a major burden for the federal and state budgets.

“Any reforms must also take into account our country’s exploding national debt. I remain deeply concerned about the high price tags associated with House bill and the Senate Health Committee legislation. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that these plans could cost as much as $1.6 trillion over the next decade. These costs may be borne by middle-income families and small businesses in the form of increased taxes at a time when they can least afford it.

“The Senate Finance Committee continues to work to come up with bipartisan legislation that addresses these concerns. I look forward to seeing what its negotiations produce.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Audio: Senator Collins on health care reform

Senator Collins discusses health care reform with Ric Tyler and George Hale on WVOM:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Collins takes part in 'Fiscal Wake-Up Tour' forum

Senator Collins participated in a Fiscal Wake-Up Tour event hosted by the Concord Coalition. Senator Collins, former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, Concord Coalition Executive Director Bob Bixby, Stuart Butler of the Brookings Institution, and Will Marshall from the Progressive Policy Institute discussed present and future fiscal policy.

The event is among many similar events hosted by the Concord Coalition throughout the nation to address the mounting federal deficit and policy solutions. The event also came on the day that the Obama administration increased ten-year deficit projections to $9 trillion.

“We need to make some fundamental changes in the way that we have approached spending in this country,” said Senator Collins. “If we don’t, our future commitments and our ever-growing demand for government services will devour our economy. But if we do make some tough choices, we can put this country back on a track so that future generations will be able to enjoy something that every American generation has enjoyed so far - a better quality of life than the generation that preceded it.”

The panel discussed and took questions on issues ranging from the budget, healthcare, and the long-term fiscal health of social security and Medicare.

Here's video from the event:

from the Portland Press Herald:
In Maine, coalition sounds alarm on consequences of debt
Americans should spend less, save more and start thinking about how the nation's mounting debt will affect their children's and grandchildren's quality of life.

That was the message delivered Tuesday by a panel of financial experts and members of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization that has dedicated itself to educating the public about the consequences of federal budget deficits.

The panelists came to Maine this week as part of their "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour," a national event organized by the coalition and aimed at cutting through partisan rhetoric and stimulating public debate on ways government can reduce spending.

Members met with the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram editorial board Tuesday morning before traveling to the Nonantum Resort in Kennebunkport, where they co-hosted a forum with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

About 200 people attended the forum and listened to the panel discuss ways to reduce the deficit – on the same day the Obama administration predicted a skyrocketing 10-year federal deficit of $9 trillion... Read more >>

Friday, August 21, 2009

Senator Collins' blog - Greece

Our last stop was Rhodes, Greece, where we arrived late Tuesday night from Afghanistan. Rhodes is a pretty town and a major port of call for our Navy. It was also the first place on our trip where we can drink the water from the tap!

The next morning we met with the head of the Navy League whose message was that the community welcomes more Navy ships. The Navy's port visits have helped to strengthen our relationship with Rhodes and, I am sure, put dollars in the pockets of merchants.

We also met and had lunch with Greece's Deputy Foreign Minister Valinaskis, a knowledgeable and urbane former professor, who discussed the Greek commitment to the Afghanistan battle, our joint counter-terrorism efforts, the nation's relationship with the U.S. Navy, and upcoming elections. The Minister also brought up Greece's relationship with Turkey, always a source of friction, and Greece's anger over the name "Macedonia" being used by a country that was once part of what used to be called Yugoslavia. This Macedonia dispute was a new issue for me but clearly is deeply felt by the Greeks.

After a press conference with the Minister Valinaskis, we left immediately for the airport for our return to Washington.

I am so glad to be back home in America.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Senator Collins' blog- Helmand Province

At 7:45 a.m., we board a C-130 leaving Kabul for the two-hour flight to Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. Although slightly less crowded than usual, the plane is full of exhaust fumes and very hot. The pilot executes a steep, fast, stomach-turning combat landing. Sitting next to me is a big, strong Special Operations Forces guy with an M-4, who also happens to be a medic. He kindly hands me two Dramamine to take before the return trip.

Helmand Province is much hotter, drier, and windier than Kabul. The Marine base is carved out of a featureless desert. Everything from tents to vehicles is coated with wind-blown sand.

Helmand is a Taliban stronghold and part of RC-3 (Regional Command-3.) General Nicholson, the terrific commander of RC-3, has sacrificed a lot for our country. Seriously wounded in Iraq, he recovered and, rather than retiring, is now in charge of the new strategy to reclaim southern Afghanistan from the Taliban.

The General talks to us about the tremendous courage of our troops and their progress in clearing the "Big T" Taliban out of the villages. There is no doubt that the Marines are highly effective. They are also suffering tough casualties. While at Camp Leatherneck, I was saddened to learn of the death of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard of New Portland, Maine, who died a few days ago in combat operations in Helmand. With the deployment of additional troops has come more casualties, which is what makes troop level decisions so difficult.

After hearing the General's briefing, I have two major concerns.

First the ratio of our troops to the Afghan Army members in Helmand makes no sense to me at all. There are some 10,000 American troops in the region, but only about 800 Afghan troops. Why are we bearing such a disproportionate burden in one of the most dangerous regions of the country? While at 90,000 members the Afghan Army isn't as large as it should be, surely more Afghan troops could be deployed to this region.

Second, it appears to me that we don't have enough civilians from America and other countries to work with the Afghans to provide security, basic services, and governance structures once the Marines clear out the Taliban. In other words, the "clear, hold, build, and transition" strategy cannot succeed without more civilians to help with the "build and transition" parts. The Marines battle the Taliban village by village, but then the Taliban return if villages are not secured. A counter-insurgency strategy depends on a unity of effort by both the military and civilian sides. But it looks to me like the civilian side is severely understaffed for the mission.

The two "surges" that I think may be needed are surges of Afghan troops and of American civilian employees. Yet, much of the debate about Afghanistan in Congress seems to focus on whether or not to send more American troops with far less discussion of the levels of Afghan troops and civilian personnel.

We leave the briefing to have lunch with the Marines from our respective state. I enjoy talking with the Marines who hail from several Maine communities well as with a civilian, Dr. Joseph Mickiewicz, who turns out to be the son-in-law of John Dionne of Grand Isle, Maine.

I ask the Marines their concerns. Two of them tell me exactly what I perceived from the briefing: that after they fight to drive the Taliban out of a village, there isn't the follow up that is required to secure and stabilize the town.

The Marines also tell me that when they arrived in May, they did not have the equipment that they needed for some time. This is a disturbing problem that I will pursue with Defense Dept. officials.

On a more positive note, the Marines proudly describe their success in rooting out the Taliban and in working with local Afghan leaders. One quotes a local leader urging residents to work with the Americans as saying: "The Taliban don't build schools; they burn schools!"

The Maine Marines are an impressive group, and I tell them how proud we all are of their sacrifice and service.

After lunch, we visit the field hospital which is operated by a combined team of British, Danish, and Americans. We visit each of the patients which include a badly injured Marine who will be airlifted to Germany shortly for additional treatment. He describes an ambush by Taliban fighters in which he was injured. His spirits seem good, however, and he loves talking with John McCain.

Among the other patients are a young Danish woman solider and an eight-year old Afghan boy in a wheel chair who has two broken legs and a broken arm.

An operation is underway while we are at the hospital, and I am surprised to learn the patient is a Taliban fighter who was shot in the stomach.

After we talked with all the patients and the British hospital administrator, we make our way back to the C-130 for the two-hour return flight to Kabul where we have a press conference. The Afghan press repeatedly asks whether the timing of our trip is intended to boost President Karzai's election chances. We explain that we are not backing any candidate and that we did not meet with Hamid Karzai or any other candidate to avoid giving that impression. (Ironically, President Karzai is angry at our Ambassador for holding meetings with two other candidates.)

American officials do hope that whoever wins can avoid a run-off election which would delay necessary decisions as well as General McChrystal's pivotal report.

Senator Collins' blog - Afghanistan

It's a five-hour flight from Sana'a, Yemen, to Kabul, Afghanistan, and with the 90-minute time change, it is close to 7:30 p.m. when we arrive.

Afghanistan is the most important part of our journey because the United States will soon face a difficult and weighty decision on whether or not to further augment our troops beyond the 20,000 additional troops already deployed by the Obama Administration. This latest deployment brings the total number of American troops in Afghanistan to approximately 68,000.

General Stan McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Iraq, meets us at the airport with helicopters that take us to his headquarters very near where a suicide bomber has caused the death of several people and the injury of about 90 others earlier in the day. It is a unwelcome reminder of how much more dangerous Afghanistan has become since my last visit here in December 2006.

General McChrystal is a smart, focused counter-insurgency expert who previously headed the Special Forces Command. A straight-forward leader, he won my confidence with his frank answers to my questions about Afghanistan in a meeting in my office prior to his confirmation.

Along with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and their aides, the General provides us with a detailed briefing. He begins with his chilling assessment that the situation in Afghanistan "is serious and deteriorating." He shows us a color-coded map that indicates areas of Taliban control, and outlines the new strategy (clear, build, hold, and transition) that began on July 2nd with the deployment of two additional battalions of Marines in Helmand province.

A great deal of the discussion focuses on whether or not more troops are needed. The General says that he has completed his analysis and will report his recommendations through his chain of command to the President in September. It seems, however, pretty clear to me that he will be asking for more troops although he does not say that since he won't preempt his report to the President. I have enormous respect for General McChyrstal but remain troubled by the prospect of deploying more troops.

I ask General McChrystal whether any of the Taliban are reconcilable since I have my doubts. In replying "yes," he makes an interesting distinction (as does General Nicholson the following day) between "Big T," the Taliban leaders driven by extremist ideology and often from outside the region, versus "Little T," the local day laborer who works for the Taliban simply for money.

We also spend considerable time discussing corruption, which is endemic in Afghanistan, undermining public confidence in government and burdening the population. The President's own brother is alleged to be taking bribes from drug traffickers moving the poppy crop.

We discuss the need for an aggressive anti-corruption effort, the urgency of increasing the size of the Afghan Army, the contributions of our NATO partners, and the impact of the upcoming presidential elections which will take place on Thursday.
The good news is that the Afghans are keenly interested in the elections; there have been real debates, and the Afghans have true choices. Not only President Karzai and his closest competitor former, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, but also about 40 other candidates are on the ballot.

The very bad news: in some villages, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the Taliban are threatening to cut off the ink-stained fingers of anyone who votes. Security is so lacking in some areas that the elections commission is not even setting up voting booths, requiring Afghans to travel some distance if they wish to vote. Fraud is also likely to be a problem.

Afghans widely perceive the U.S. as backing Karzai in the election. To avoid fueling that perception three days before the election, our delegation decides not to meet with President Karzai.

Instead, we continue our discussion over a very late dinner at the embassy with the Ministers of various Departments (Defense, Interior, etc.) and the National Security Advisor.

I take this opportunity to talk about the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan, recalling President Karzai's early commitment to educating girls yet his decision this year to sign a law that was a giant step backwards in the rights of women. The Judicial Minister quickly said that the law had been repealed and had been a "huge mistake."

Tommorrow we will go to Camp Leatherneck, the Marine encampment in Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Senator Collins' blog- Yemen

On Sunday, we arrived in Yemen, an ancient land said to have been founded by Shem, Noah's son. Being there is like stepping back into an exotic world of several centuries ago. It is also one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Yemen is a tinderbox: the government is fighting two different insurgencies as well as Al Qaeda cells. It's strategically important because of its significant cargo ports and its location adjacent to Saudia Arabia.

Unlike the rest of the Arabian Pennisula, Yemen is extremely poor. It has little oil and has depleted a large amount of what it did have.

The country also faces a demographic time bomb with 60 percent of its population under the age of 25, creating a growing pool of recruits for Al Qaeda and for the insurgents, particularly given the very high rate of unemployment. The birth rate is 6.7 children, one of the highest in the world.

Yemen men often have more than one wife - at the same time. Most Yemeni women wear black abayas with only their eyes visible when they are in public.

Yemen also has a terrible problem with a native drug called qat that is chewed by 70 percent of the men and a growing number of women. Many of the men wear traditional short curved swords held by ornate belts. Envision this: most of the men are drugged with a stimulant every day and are carrying sharp knives!

All these factors combine to make Yemen unstable. The site of the infamous bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in 2000, Yemen continues to be attractive terrority for Al Qaeda, which attacked our American embassy with suicide bombers just last September. Both the Ambassador and his wife, (who is a native of Sanford, Maine,) were at home at the time but escaped unhurt. Guards at the embassy were not so lucky - several died in repelling the attack.

Approximately 100 of the remaining 240 detainees at Guatanamo are from Yemen. What to do with them if Gitmo is closed is a major concern since some of the previously released Yemenis have rejoined Al Qaeda. We discussed this and other challenges with the Yemini President Saleh and separately with our Ambassador and the Embassy staff.