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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 10:39 a.m.
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As sequestration looms, Sen. Collins takes center stage

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will play a crucial role this week as she attempts to get her colleagues in the Republican party to strike a deal with Democrats across the aisle to pass a budget and avoid more than $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. Collins has been one of the only Republicans who have been willing to compromise with her colleagues across the aisle, making her a key vote for any budget agreement.

“I believe members of both parties need to work together on a plan to avoid the devastating impact of these meat-ax cuts and to set our country on a path to long-term stability,” Collins said.

Collins, a native of Caribou, is known to work across the aisle with her Democratic colleagues, voting for the 2009 stimulus package. But if a deal is not reached by March 1, Maine could be heavily impacted by the spending cuts due to budget cuts in areas like Naval shipbuilding.

“Failure to avert such an outcome could have severe ramifications for the nation’s ongoing shipbuilding efforts and for the thousands of talented and trained professionals at Bath Iron Works, our nation’s premier shipbuilder,” Collins said.

Bath Iron Works is one of the largest shipbuilders in the U.S., employing over 5,000 employees in Bath, Maine. The immediate consequence of sequestration will be a drastic cut in military spending, starting with a 20 percent reduction in the operations budget, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.

That 20 percent cut will largely affect the maintenance portion of the Naval budget, meaning that ship-repair yards like the one in Portland will be drastically affected, among other military contractors in Maine.

A Pew Research Center poll found that Americans overwhelmingly oppose the $85 billion of cuts that are slated for March 1, with respondents favoring an increase in spending or maintaining current levels in 19 out of 19 categories, as opposed to the cuts in programs that will occur if the sequester happens.

“This isn’t a Republican problem or a Democratic problem, it’s an American problem,” said Collins, who will be visiting UMaine in the spring. “Congress and the president need to reaffirm to the American people that we can and will respond to the very real problems our country faces.”

Collins will need to run for reelection in 2014 if she wishes to keep her seat in the Senate, but that should not be a problem according to professor of political science and polling expert Amy Fried.

“She would be the very strong favorite should she be the Republican nominee,” Fried said. “While some Republicans are unhappy with Sen. Collins, there was more Republican grassroots unhappiness toward Sen. Olympia Snowe, and most of that disapproval has faded.”

Snow retired from the U.S. Congress in January after 18 years of service, citing hyper partisanship and frustration at the dysfunction of Congress.

Zachary Nichols, president of the Libertarian group UMaine Students for Liberty, disagreed with Fried.

“I think the number of Republicans who tossed their hat into the ring when Sen. Snowe announced her retirement, nearly all of them more conservative or libertarian-leaning, indicates that a challenger is likely,” Nichols said.

President of UMaine College Republicans Cam Marcotte agrees with Nichols, but he thinks a challenger will not be successful.

“I think, with the high approval ratings that Collins has, she will win quite handedly,” he said.

Marcotte said the UMaine College Republicans would absolutely endorse Collins if faced with a challenger.

“I met Sen. Collins at the State Convention last year, and she was very impressive,” Marcotte said.

At a time when approval for Congress is at 15 percent, Collins has an approval rating of 63 percent, with a 24 percent disapproval rating, according to Public Policy Polling.

Part of that high approval rating is due to her bipartisanship, but also her dedication to the needs of Mainers. Collins has never missed a roll call vote as senator, almost unheard of in Congress, but there have been come close calls.

One instance came in 2007, a roll call vote was called during an important Homeland Security Committee hearing. Chairman Joe Lieberman, relying on assurances from staff on the Senate floor, assured committee members that the vote would be open long enough to finish their work and proceed to the vote.

“I just had a feeling that I needed to leave the hearing before it was finished in order to vote. I remember, literally, running in high heels to the train that connects the Senate office building to the U.S. Capitol, and twisting my ankle on the way,” said Collins, who was elected to the Senate in 2002. “I knew there wasn’t much time left in the vote and I limped onto the Senate floor. Just as I cast my vote, the clock ran out and the vote was called — but I made it.”