WASHINGTON – Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine were two of just three Senate Republicans to vote for the federal stimulus package in 2009. The third, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, later switched parties and lost in a 2010 Democratic Senate primary.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the topic of the $787 billion stimulus package — defenders say it created enough jobs to stave off catastrophe, while critics point to still-high unemployment as evidence of a boondoggle — was broached by reporters on Capitol Hill last week who questioned Snowe about President Obama’s jobs plan.

Snowe didn’t defend the package as a smashing success — but she didn’t back off her contention that it was a necessary evil.

Could the stimulus have worked better? “Absolutely,” said Snowe, saying that the “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects weren’t really so ready, and that subsequent actions by the administration and Congress, such as the health care bill, failed to create the overall conditions needed for true economic growth.

“On the other hand, what didn’t happen is that the entirety of the economy didn’t collapse,” Snowe said.

What does that have to do with how lawmakers are looking at the president’s $447 billion jobs plan?

The concern with the stimulus was that it didn’t create enough jobs quickly enough. So now lawmakers are hyper-focused, 14 months from Election Day, on whether a second stimulus round can make an impact.

“We have to make sure that we are making the right investments in the right places to make it happen,” Snowe said last week.

Obama can trek from the House chamber to Ohio to North Carolina and other points across the country to urge Congress to pass his jobs plan right away and in its entirety. But it just isn’t going to happen, not real quick and not as written by the White House.

Obama’s main mechanism to pay for the proposal is a limit on itemized tax deductions for individuals earning more than $200,000 and households with annual incomes over $250,000, something that even a number of Democrats haven’t embraced.

Some Republicans, including Snowe and Collins, say they aren’t averse to all tax hikes. They are open to closing some tax loopholes such as breaks for major oil companies — and Collins says she could back a tax hike on those earning $5 million-plus.

Many Democrats, especially in the House, argued for allowing the Bush-era income tax cuts for Americans making more than $250,000 to expire, and felt abandoned by Obama when he brokered a deal in late 2010 with congressional Republicans extending all of the Bush tax cuts.

Snowe and Collins are sticking to their position that too many small businesses would be hurt by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire because of the way small-business owners file their taxes. That’s an argument that Democrats dismiss as bogus, citing a report by the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation that just a fraction of businesses would be affected, and that many of them are partnerships or investors, not the type of small-business job creators cited by Republicans.

Collins said in an interview last week that she is optimistic that the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans can forge a consensus on what the federal government can do to help create jobs.

Snowe said there is no reason why Congress can’t pass individual, more targeted jobs bills.

Like Congress as a whole, a majority of Maine’s congressional delegation still must be won over by Obama’s entire plan.

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree is the most enthusiastic, citing White House figures that Obama’s plan would preserve teachers’ and first responders’ jobs and generate spending on infrastructure projects in Maine.

Asked whether she supports Obama’s proposed tax hikes to pay for the jobs plan, Pingree said via email, “I support the president’s efforts in this proposal to make the tax code simpler, fairer, and more progressive. … It’s critical to our country for millionaires and billionaires to once again pay their fair share.”

Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud said last week that while the “offsets the president would use to pay for his plan seem generally “on track” in terms of targeting wealthier Americans and corporate tax breaks, he doesn’t want to put “the cart before the horse. It’s important to thoroughly examine the impact on job creation of each proposal in his plan and make sure they are worth paying for in the first place.”

Michaud joined other fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition House Democrats last week in unveiling a jobs plan of their own, aimed at giving small businesses increased access to capital and government contracts.

“We need to foster a pro-growth environment that allows our small businesses to thrive,” said Michaud, sounding more enthusiastic than he did about Obama’s plan.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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