WASHINGTON — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe say they aren’t automatic “no” votes on all aspects of President Obama’s jobs package.

Soon, Maine’s Republican senators should have a chance to show just what they are willing to vote “yes” on.

Last week, Collins and Snowe joined a unified bloc of Republican senators in voting against the Obama jobs bill, as did two Senate Democrats, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Jon Tester of Montana.

The procedural motion to proceed to a final debate and vote on the $447 billion plan barely received a Senate majority, let alone the 60 votes it needed. And two other Senate Democrats indicated that while they were willing to vote to cut off debate, they would have voted against the bill in the end.

A number of Republicans dismissed Obama’s proposals to spend money for infrastructure projects and hiring teachers and first responders as a re-do of the $787 billion stimulus package in 2009 that many in the GOP deride as a waste of tax dollars.

Snowe and Collins were among just three Senate Republicans to vote for the 2009 stimulus.

That plan didn’t work as well as it could have, Snowe said recently, but, “On the other hand, what didn’t happen is that the entirety of the economy didn’t collapse.”

Even after Senate Democrats changed the way Obama financed the new jobs plan — by stripping out his proposal to limit tax deductions for households earning more than $250,000 a year and adding a surcharge to the income taxes paid by millionaires — it was clear that Democrats weren’t solidly behind the package. That’s something Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was more than happy to amplify with last week’s vote.

Now it’s Senate Democrats’ turn to turn up the heat on Republicans, by placing individual — and popular — elements of the Obama jobs bill on the floor.

A group of Senate Republicans last week put forward a new jobs plan of their own, including a reprise of attempts to repeal the health care reform law and reduce federal regulations on businesses, but Democrats control what bills get to the floor. Snowe and Collins had not signed on last week to the proposal.

Extending the temporary Social Security payroll reduction will be out there, and that’s something Collins and Snowe have indicated they can back. Other provisions that Democrats know are popular include a tax break for businesses that hire veterans.

The key will be how to pay for the proposals.

Some Republicans, including Snowe and Collins, say they aren’t averse to all tax increases. 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.

Expect Collins and Snowe also to continue to push for their own regulatory reform proposals and for comprehensive tax reform.

Snowe is a focal point right now, since she is up for re-election next year.

She gets slammed from the right by two tea party-aligned primary challengers, most notably Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, as a too-moderate Republican.

Democratic state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland, one of two Democrats who are on the verge of running against Snowe, has formed a Senate exploratory committee and last week blasted Snowe’s jobs bill vote as showing she is in lock step with the “extremes” of the GOP.

Snowe may be navigating delicate political waters, trying to chart a course away from leaving herself vulnerable to a tea party challenge while maintaining her traditionally moderate bent, but it’s tough to make the case she has become a conservative Republican — especially in the context of today’s GOP.

The conservative Heritage Action for America group recently rated Collins and Snowe the second- and third-least conservative GOP senators, respectively.

And while Snowe and Collins stuck with their party on the jobs bill vote, they voted against the House GOP budget plan earlier this year and for the federal debt ceiling deal in August that was unpopular with many conservatives.

When the Senate passed trade pacts last week with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, Snowe and Collins were the only two GOP senators to vote against the Colombia deal. Snowe was the lone Senate Republican vote against the South Korea agreement.

Snowe and Collins complained last week that senators should have been allowed to try to amend and improve the Obama jobs bill, rather than being forced to essentially take an up-or-down vote on the entire package.

Soon, Snowe and Collins may have a chance to show definitively and specifically what component of Obama’s jobs plan each is willing to vote for, what other Democratic, Republican and bipartisan proposals they would back, and how to pay for it all.

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

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