Snowe keeps falling

With time running out, President Obama used his weekly address yesterday to call on Congress to approve an extension of the payroll tax cut. Economists project a significant economic hit if lawmakers fail to act, and the president said, “Now is the time to step on the gas, not slam on the brakes.”

Then there was the Republican address, delivered by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

…Snowe put her emphasis on a Constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, saying ,”We have no greater duty than to once and for all obligate the government to live within its means and spend no more than what it takes in.”

Snowe argued that, among other things, the balanced budget amendment would enforce the mandatory spending cuts that are supposed to take effect in 2013 because of the failure of the super committee to reach agreement on an alternative deficit reduction plan.

“The bottom line is, the real reason many lawmakers don’t want a balanced budget amendment is the exact reason why it’s so essential,” Snowe said. “They don’t want their hands tied; they want to continue to spend without restraint. Their way has been to break budgets and amass more and more debt, all the while promising Congress will one day balance the budget. Well, as we sadly know, the promises were empty, the debt is astronomical and their way hasn’t worked. Now, it’s time for our way.”

Even for Republicans, this is ridiculous.

For one thing, the Balanced Budget Amendment is already dead. The House, dominated by far-right Republicans, brought the proposal to the floor two weeks ago, and it failed miserably. Why on earth would the official GOP response tout an already-defeated measure related to the debt when the focus should be on the economy?

For another, the BBA is a spectacularly bad idea. It would devastate the economy and make responses to future crises effectively impossible. Bruce Bartlett, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, explained recently that this is a “dreadful” idea and the Republican proposal “is, frankly, nuts.”

And finally, what has gotten into Olympia Snowe? In October, she partnered with a right-wing Alabama senator to push a plan to make the legislative process even more difficult. A week earlier, she demanded the administration act with “urgency” to address the jobs crisis, only to filibuster a popular jobs bill a day later. The week before that, Snowe prioritized tax cuts for millionaires over job creation. Shortly before that, Snowe tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances, which is a popular line among conservatives, despite being wrong.

It’s tempting to think the fear of a primary challenge is pushing Snowe to the far-right, but the truth is, the senator’s GOP opponents next year are barely even trying. She may fear a replay of the Castle-O’Donnell fight that played out in Delaware, but all indications are that Snowe really doesn’t have anything to worry about.

And yet, she’s become a shell of her former self. It’s rather sad to watch.

There is some prime real estate in the political landscape for genuine GOP moderates who could have a significant impact. Instead, Congress has Olympia Snowe, who now bears no resemblance to the centrist she used to be.

If I had to guess, I’d say most mainstream voters in Maine have no idea of the extent to which Snowe has moved to the right, which is a shame. I wonder how those who supported her in the past would even recognize her anymore.