Another great coup for the centrists!
Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine GOP dealmaker who’s been in the limelight this week for helping to pass a watered down stimulus, has been talking a good game about the need to avoid wasting taxpayer money. But it looks like Collins also worked today to strip from the final bill a measure that’s crucial to exposing that waste.
Here’s what happened:
The House stimulus bill contained a provision designed to protect federal whistleblowers. Currently, those protections are shockingly weak. According to the Project On Government Oversight, whistleblowers who are fired or demoted can file a complaint with a government board — but over the last eight years, that board has ruled in favor of whistleblowers only twice in 55 cases.
More to the point, the protections were designed to encourage federal workers to point out cases where taxpayer money is subject to waste, fraud, or abuse — a legitimate concern when Congress spends $800 billion, and one that centrists and Republicans have been particularly exercised about.
Yesterday, 20 members of the House, from both parties, sent a letter to House negotiators urging them to ensure that the protections remained.
But, according to a person following the bill closely, Collins used today’s conference committee to drastically water down the measure, citing national security concerns as the reason for her opposition. In the end, the protections were so weakened that House negotiators balked, and the result was that the entire amendment was removed.
According to the person following the bill, Collins was the “central roadblock” to passing the protections.
To make matter worse, Collins is the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs commitee, which, as an oversight committee, might be expected to see its role as protecting whistleblowers. She also sits on the Senate appropriations committee, giving her a strong position from which to wield influence during today’s negotiations.
Though Senate leader Harry Reid supported the protections, said the source, he wasn’t willing to strong-arm Collins on the issue, given her central role in negotiations over the stimulus bill as a whole.
So when, in the coming months, conservatives start jumping up and down over the fact that money from the stimulus bill is being wasted, as they surely will, it’s worth remember that a key measure designed to help expose that waste was removed from the bill — and by a senator said to be a champion of fiscal discipline.
Senator Collins’s press secretary did not immediately respond to a request for comment.