Ask Sen. Olympia Snowe what she hopes to accomplish in what’s left of 2012, her last year in office, and the Maine Republican circles back to a hearing she was part of in 1979.

It was back then, as a House freshman, that she testified along with legendary House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, D-Mass., about the need for a home heating assistance program for vulnerable low-income residents in cold weather states like Maine, Snowe said.

Snowe vows to go out fighting for more money today for the program they helped create, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.

It’s a fight Snowe and other Maine lawmakers have waged on a bipartisan basis. After President Obama’s 2012 budget proposed cutting LIHEAP funding nationally to $2.57 billion from $4.7 billion, Congress hiked it back up to just $3.5 billion in a tough budget year. That means Maine received less than $40 million in LIHEAP funding, compared to $56.5 million last winter.

Obama requested $3 billion for LIHEAP in his 2013 budget proposal released last month. And again, Snowe said, she and other cold weather state lawmakers will spend the year trying to increase that to the $4.7 billion funding level — though it’s again going to be a tough, perhaps improbable, task.

But Snowe said that she intends to spend a lot of time and energy this year trying to “solidify funding” for a program she has “nurturedsince its inception.”

Snowe’s step around the Capitol seems a bit lighter since she shocked the political world by announcing last month that she won’t seeking a fourth term in the Senate, ending a congressional career that began when she won a House seat in 1978.

Snowe won’t concede that anything is different about her attitude or outlook in the wake of her retirement announcement blasting the Senate’s partisan paralysis and dysfunction.

After gearing up for months to run for another term, Snowe concluded around the time of her 65th birthday on Feb. 21 that she didn’t actually want to spend six more years in the Senate.

Snowe was running hard until she made her decision. By the end of 2011, she had nearly $3.4 million in campaign cash on hand, for primary and general election challenges that analysts rated Snowe the clear favorite to win.

Snowe had a fundraiser the week before she announced her decision. She had five scheduled from March 7-14, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation’s web site. All of those were canceled, along with about a dozen other fundraisers scheduled or being planned beyond March 14, according to Snowe’s campaign manager, Justin Brasell.

Making the decision to retire was tough, and despite her criticism of the current state of the Senate she will miss parts of being a senator, Snowe said. But Snowe insists she deals well with change and that she will remain focused on trying to get some things done this year — not indulge in a months-long nostalgia trip.

While Snowe is intent on continuing to operate in the present, she’s also a walking institutional memory.

“I feel the same,” Snowe said last week in a Capitol Hill interview. “The people of Maine deserve to have full representation from me regardless of the fact that I am not going to be here in the next term. Nothing will change.”

Snowe’s agenda also includes other items that probably aren’t going to happen this year, including comprehensive tax and budget reform. Indeed, Snowe is probably fated to spend her final days in office in a post-election, pre-Christmas, lame duck Congress stand-off over what to do about the Bush tax cuts.

In the meantime, Snowe insists, she is going to try to make a difference.

“I am determined to fulfill my remaining months to the maximum, in every aspect and every way possible,” Snowe said.

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

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