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Collins Praised, Pummeled on Payroll Tax Vote
12/02/2011   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Maine Sen. Susan Collins says she's receiving support from some constitutents and criticism from some Republicans for her vote last night in favor of a surcharge on millionaires to finance an extension of the payroll tax cut. The measure failed in the Senate, and Collins was the only Republican to vote for it. Collins explains her vote, in part, as an effort to break the ongoing partisan gridlock in Congress.

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Speaking with reporters in Maine this afternoon, Sen. Susan Collins (left in photo at right) says it's her view that the current 2 percent Social Security payroll tax cut should not expire at the end of the year.

"That would have meant a tax increase on every single working family in our state and across the nation," she says. "At the same time I was also pleased that for the first time this version of the bill was going to provide a payroll tax reduction to employers, and that would help every single employer in our state."

Though the measure was defeated, Collins says such tax changes are needed to help spur job growth at a time when the economy remains fragile. She says she would prefer to restructure the surcharge on the very wealthy so that small businesses can be exempted from the tax. And next week she plans to unveil what she says will be a bipartisan package to do that.

She says she's grown weary of the paralysis over spending bills, jobless benefits and the payroll tax cut. "And one reason I decided to cross the aisle last night is to send a signal that we've got to have an end to this partisan gridlock. We are not serving the people of Maine or the people of this nation well. We've got to come together. We've got to put aside our party labels and remember that we're Americans first."

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe voted to support a Republican-backed alternative to extend the payroll tax holiday, but pay for it by freezing federal workers' pay through 2015. That measure also failed. In Lewiston, Snowe told reporters that the proposed surcharge on the wealthy would hurt small business.

"Four out of five of those who would have had to pay that tax, that surcharge, would have been small business owners," Snowe says. "That was my concern, because I don't want to be raising taxes in this environment." Snowe says she thinks the key to extending the payroll tax cut is eliminating a tax on small business as a way to pay for it.

"Well I think it's very telling. You can tell exactly who's up for re-election and where their problem lies right now," says Ben Grant, chair of the Maine Democratic Party, who points out that Sen. Snowe, is up for re-election next year.

"It's clear that Sen. Snowe has a problem with the conservative base and she can't afford to take any votes that either help the economy or help the president or do anything to support any Democrats," Grant says. "And I think that's really what's at the heart of what's going on here."

Grant says he was surprised to see Sen. Collins break ranks with the GOP. While some members of her party are not happy with her today, Collins says some of her GOP colleagues have praised her move. "And I think there's an increasing number of senators on both sides of the aisle who are about ready to say 'enough. We need to come together.'"

Just this week Collins says she attended a private dinner with 20 senators: ten Democrats, ten Republicans. At that dinner they talked about the need to put aside their differences and to try to reach an agreement on the budget, on a jobs bill and on tax policy. Collins says the fact that 20 of them were able to agree to those broad goals over dinner gives her encouragement about a possible breakthrough.

But as the saying goes: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." And the next time members of Congress meet to work out their differences, dinner may require a larger table.

Photo by Susan Sharon.


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