What passes for moderation

Objectively speaking, Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine is one of Congress’ most moderate Republicans. Alas, that realization is part of a larger problem.

Today, Collins has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal recommending a moratorium on federal regulations — she calls it a “time out” — that uses all of the same poll-tested phrases her Republican caucus tells its members to repeat. The Mainer express concern about “uncertainty,” “crushing” regulations, and the “big wet blanket on our economy.”

I’m honestly not sure whether to be annoyed or feel sorry for Collins. If she actually believes this nonsense, it’s the former.

Matt Finkelstein helps set the record straight.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is predictably cheering Collins’ contribution to the team, but economists and business owners dispute the Collins-Boehner narrative. According to a survey of economists by the Wall Street Journal, “The main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies.” The paper has also reported that businesses are “hoarding cash” and waiting for “a burst in demand strong enough to propel hiring.”

The next time Collins wants to write a column on job creation, she should look for inspiration in her own past statements instead of the GOP message machine.

Also note, McClatchy recently “reached out to owners of small businesses, many of them mom-and-pop operations, to find out whether they indeed were being choked by regulation.” The news outlet found, “None of the business owners complained about regulation in their particular industries, and most seemed to welcome it.”

At a certain level, I suspect Collins knows this. But as her party shifts dramatically to the hard right, it appears she’s willing to inch further and further in that direction herself, which is terribly sad to watch.

Indeed, this comes less than a week after her friend and colleague from Maine, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances. That’s a popular line among conservatives, but it’s wrong, too.

Taken together, what seems obvious is that Congress no longer has actual Republican moderates. What we have are far-right Republicans and not-quite-as-far-to-the-right Republicans.

Given the larger landscape, there’s room for genuine GOP centrists — in, say, the Mark Hatfield or Lowell Weicker mold — to have a significant impact in Washington. Real Republican moderates, if they existed, would not only generate considerable attention, but could potentially have an instrumental role in shaping policy.

But that’s not an option. The best of the best — relatively speaking, of course — is now made up of Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of whom appear to be reading from a ridiculous script.