Sen. Susan Collins will become vice chair of both the Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The results of midterm elections nationwide denied Maine’s representatives chairmanships of three powerful congressional bodies that control how and where billions of federal dollars are spent across the country.

But Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins will rise to an extremely influential position nonetheless because of the retirement of a senior Republican colleague, meaning Maine will experience little net loss in influence in the federal appropriation process.

Despite high inflation and President Biden’s relative unpopularity, Democrats retained their razor-thin control of the Senate – and will increase it by one if a Georgia runoff election in December goes their way – while Republicans gained a slim majority in the House.

Had the Republicans won the Senate, Collins would be assuming the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee and the chairmanship of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which has great sway over military spending. Instead, she will be vice chair of both bodies, replacing her Republican colleague Richard Shelby of Alabama, who currently holds both roles but is retiring at the end of the year.

Because of how the Senate works, Collins’ influence in her new positions will still be enormous, and little less than it would have been if she were chair instead of vice chair, according to Mark B. Harkins, a former congressional Appropriations Committee staffer and lobbyist who is now a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute.

“Because you have to have 60 votes to get something across the finish line, there is a lot of comity on the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Harkins says. “Democrats will want to make sure Sen. Collins is happy with whatever the final product is because they want her to bless it if they are going to have any chance of getting the nine or 10 Republican votes they will need.”


Collins agrees, saying the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee has a particularly cooperative culture.

“The chair and vice chair typically work hand in glove, and I chose this subcommittee because of the importance of defense appropriations to our state in terms of jobs and to our country in terms of national security,” she says. She said she has an excellent relationship with the expected incoming chair of that subcommittee, John Tester, a Democrat representing Montana.

“Obviously, I would have preferred to be chair, but being vice chairman is also a very significant post,” Collins said.

Sen. Susan Collins speaks prior to a ribbon cutting in downtown Waterville on Nov. 18. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Harkins said one way to illustrate the power Collins will have as vice chair is to simply look at her predecessor’s record regarding earmarks, as member-directed funding initiatives are called.

When appropriations earmarks returned earlier this year after a 12-year ban, Shelby channeled more to his home state than any other senator by a longshot: $548 million. His nearest rival, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, delivered $334 million to his state. And 16 of the top 20 Senate earmark rainmakers served on the Appropriations Committee, according to an analysis by Roll Call and Congressional Quarterly.

Collins’ office reported in March that the senator secured $200.3 million for 105 projects across the state.


The largest chunks of that funding went to University of Maine research into climate, advanced material and composites, wind energy and other programs, and to Maine Department of Transportation road improvement projects. But Collins also funneled federal money into a wide variety of community-level projects, from improved wastewater treatment to organizations that provide health care and workforce development.

While Collins had previously served on Appropriations and the defense subcommittee, her elevation to vice chair of each will likely boost Maine’s net influence, especially over defense matters.

General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works and Pratt & Whitney’s North Berwick aircraft engine plants are Maine’s fourth and 12th largest private employers, respectively, and the government-owned Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery employs more than either of them with a payroll of 7,250 people, though many reside in New Hampshire.

Collins told constituents in October that she would use her elevated positions to help rural Maine communities obtain funding for community projects like the rebuilding of Greenville’s fire station and research at Jackson Laboratory and MDI Biological Laboratory on Mount Desert Island.

But Maine’s influence over Appropriations will be undermined by the Democrats’ loss of control of the U.S. House, where the absence of a filibuster will allow Republicans to govern without Democratic input. That’s unfortunate for Maine because Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st District, will no longer chair one of the powerful House appropriations subcommittees and, as the likely ranking member, will have far less influence.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree announces her reelection victory at Aura in Portland on Nov. 8. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“Unlike in the Senate, the House majority can jam things down the minority’s throat and there’s not that veto power to stop it,” Harkins notes. “When you’re chair, like she was, you can write up the first version of the bill and offer trinkets for the minority. But when you’re the minority, you can decide if that’s enough trinkets, but you don’t have any control what’s in the final bill.”


For the remainder of this year’s lame duck congress, Pingree is chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which oversees the drafting of budgets for the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian and almost the entire Department of the Interior, which includes the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other entities. The House subcommittee chairs are so influential they’re known as “the Cardinals.”

“As Interior Appropriations Chair, I oversaw unprecedented investments to fight the climate crisis, dedicated the highest level of federal funding to the arts and humanities ever, and continued our commitment to tribal nations,” Pingree said via email, adding that as ranking member in the next Congress, she hoped “to defend those gains and work with my Republican colleagues to build on these investments into the future.”

The House appropriations positions are unofficial at this stage, and most other committee assignments won’t be worked out until January when the final election results are known. That will determine how many seats the majority will get on each committee.

A spokesperson for Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who won reelection in Maine’s 2nd District, said he hopes to continue his service on the Armed Services Committee “and will look for opportunities to best serve his constituents through additional committee assignments.”

Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, was not available for an interview. He currently chairs two subcommittees, the Armed Services Committee’s panel overseeing strategic nuclear and cyber forces and the Natural Resources’ Committee’s panel overseeing national parks. Like Collins, he is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

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