If you’ve been paying close attention – or any attention at all, really – to the debate regarding Joe Biden’s social spending plan, you may have noticed something unique about it: For once, neither of Maine’s two U.S. senators have been the focal point of attention in a major debate over national public policy. While this may be a relief for Mainers, as we’ve been spared the usual deluge of ads extolling us to call our senators to advocate against or in favor of the legislation, it’s a bad sign for the country as a whole.

For the most part, ever since 1996 when Susan Collins first joined Olympia Snowe in the Senate, the pair was at the center of every major policy decision Congress made. That wasn’t simply because they were the only moderates in a sea of partisan ideologues – when they first entered Congress and for years afterwards, moderates were much more commonplace in both parties than they are now. You had people like Max Baucus and Zell Miller for the Democrats, and for the Republicans people like Jon Chafee and Arlen Spector, all of whom were willing to both buck their own party and use their influence to move their party to a different position when they felt it was necessary. Not only were there a few senators willing to vote their own way, they could command the attention of a significant number of members of the House of Representatives as well, giving them even more influence.

These days, the numbers – and, therefore, the influence – of moderates in Congress are waning in both parties, leading to increasing partisan polarization. That helps explain why the Biden administration hasn’t even attempted to corral any Republican votes for their Build Back Better social spending plan: They’re simply not interested in trying to give this legislation even a thin veneer of bipartisanship. If they did, they’d likely not only have to curtail their plains significantly to satisfy an arbitrary spending cut-off, but they’d actually have to reduce the scope of those plans and perhaps consider giving the other side something, like spending cuts in other areas. Despite all his endless talk of bipartisanship, actually trying to work with the other party is something that the Biden administration is rarely – if ever – willing to consider even trying, and so, our senior senator is left sitting on the outside of the negotiations over the current legislation.

This isn’t an entirely unprecedented situation. Something similar unfolded when the Obama administration was trying to pass the Affordable Care Act. Even though Olympia Snowe voted for the bill in committee, indicating her willingness to compromise – she was never rewarded for it. Indeed, she was punished for that vote by her base. In the end, Obama focused on pleasing the members of his own party to pass the bill, working to satisfy moderate Democrats rather than chasing the votes of moderate Republicans. Given that history, it’s hardly a surprise that Joe Biden decided to pursue a Democrat-only vote for this bill: He probably surmised from his experience that he’d just be spinning wheels trying to get Republican votes.

No, the real surprise about these negotiations over both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better plan is the complete absence of Angus King in the negotiations. In the eyes of the press – both nationally and here in Maine – he’s not only an independent, he’s a legitimate political moderate, and yet he’s had next to no impact on the negotiations. Instead, national attention has been focused on two actual Democrats who are using their influence to impact the bill: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

While Collins has been sidelined because the administration has decided to abandon bipartisanship, Angus King has been sidelined for an entirely different reason: He’s proven to be a reliable Democratic vote, even if he doesn’t have the letter next to his name. That shows that not only is he a liberal, but he’s a terrible tactician: He should have at least held out for a better deal for his home state or his priorities to earn his vote.

In that sense, Sinema and Manchin are serving their home states well by withholding their support; King can’t even manage to do that much. Maine would be better served by having a true independent in the Senate, not one who enjoys the label but does nothing to actually earn it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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