Three liberal Republican senators — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Pennsylvania's Sen. Arlen Specter — who pledged their support this weekend to President Barack Obama’s massive stimulus bill are drawing the wrath of many conservatives.
As news filtered through the media that a "deal" had been cut with the defecting GOP Senators — giving Democrats the 60-plus votes they need to overcome a Republican filibuster — Republican officials and pundits expressed outrage.
The bolting senators cited soaring unemployment numbers, the country's worsening recession and the fact they cut about $100 billion off of the Senate Democrats' proposed plan as key factors for their decision to betray the GOP Senate caucus to join with the Democrats.
But critics note that the Democratic "compromise" plan comes in at $827 billion — $8 billion more in spending than the already bloated House bill that called for $819 billion in new spending. They also note the so-called stimulus bill offers little immediate relief to the economy. According to a Congressional Budget Office report issued last week, only a fraction of the stimulus will be spent in 2009.
Though weekends are noted for slow news cycles, Collins, Snowe, and Specter already are finding they are under hostile fire, lambasted on conservative Web sites throughout the weekend and the subjects of angry calls by many of their constituents, according to reports.
“Arlen Specter is DONE,” wrote a blogger named steelfish on the FreeRepublic Web site. “He won his last primary by less than 1 percent against a real conservative of Pat Toomey. And only because the President Bush came to PA and campaigned for him. He is DONE.”
Specter is up for re-election in 2010. Washington Republican strategists tell Newsmax this weekend that Specter's defection has sealed the deal: he will face a primary for the GOP nomination.
"We don't care if we lose the Pennsylvania Senate seat to the Democrats," one Washington strategist told Newsmax. "Better to remove Fifth columnists from the party."
The sentiment was echoed in chat rooms and blogs across the web.
“They are frauds. RINOS" Republicans in Name Only, wrote a blogger named Croupier101 on the Fox News blog site.
On TV news shows Sunday, their Republican colleagues distanced themselves from the defecting troika -- arguing that the small GOP support for the plan did not suggest Congressional Democrats or the White House sought a bipartisan stimulus.
"This agreement is not bipartisan," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I've been in bipartisan agreements, many. This is three Republican senators. Every Republican congressman voted against it in the House, plus Democrats. And all but three Republicans stayed together on this. That's not bipartisanship. That's just picking off a couple of senators," McCain said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the trio’s support must have been disappointing to Obama, who has staked much on his ostensible ability to transcend the partisan divide.
"Having three Republicans, potentially, support it in the Senate out of 535 members of Congress is hardly a bipartisan effort. I think it's a disappointment — surely must be for President Obama," Cornyn told "FOX News Sunday." He added he fully expects the bill to pass "with almost exclusively Democratic support."
The three were the target of a furious national campaign by liberal groups, who besieged their offices with phone calls and emails urging them to support the stimulus plan. Without Democrats controlling a supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate, the trio's support was essential in advancing the contentious plan to a final vote next week.
Their help more than likely will result in pushing the stimulus over the finish line.
In a video posted on YouTube, Republican Rep. Ron Paul said the three “caved in and went with the Democrats.”
The former presidential candidate, who has a sizable libertarian following on the Internet, especially among college students, praised his fellow House Republicans for unanimously opposing the stimulus. But he lamented that after eight years of the massive spending done under the Bush administration, Republican opposition was too little, too late.
"It is like they're born-again budget conservatives," Paul said. "Where were we in the past eight years, when we could have done something? And you see our last eight years that has set this situation up. So we can't blame the Democrats for the conditions we have.
"We have to blame both parties and presidents of the last several decades to have generated this huge government."
The stimulus package, which is expected to come in at about $827 billion when the Senate votes, includes tax cuts and credits and spending on infrastructure, education and other projects that supporters say will create and save jobs.
But critics contend the stimulus is nothing more than a laundry list of political payback to groups that supported the Democrats in the last election. They note that less than 5 percent of the spending goes to infrastructure projects.
Collins said she broke ranks with her party because of the progress congressional negotiators had made on the bill.
"Well, I know that some of my Republican colleagues are unhappy with the position that I've taken," Collins told reporters Saturday. "I hope they will look at the fact that we were able to cut $110 billion of unnecessary spending from this bill. I think that's a good accomplishment. I also think that it's important that we do pass a stimulus bill to help turn the economy around."
But Snowe and Specter have kept a low profile since the deal was struck. Despite their huge role, none made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows. Specter said Friday night that the agreement wasn't perfect but it was necessary.
That assertion was greeted with wild derision on the Internet and with veiled scorn by other Republican leaders.
Julie Ann O'Brien, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said she already has received plenty of e-mails from people across the country, the majority scolding the two Senators for their support of the bill.
"We have heard from both sides," she told FOXNews.com. "We've heard from those who are pleased that Sen. Collins, in particular, has been willing to play and negotiate. And there are others who feel strongly that they are not acting like Republicans are supposed to act."
O'Brien doesn't anticipate any local political fallout for Snowe or Collins, noting that both won't face re-election for several years and that voters are familiar with them.
"People know what they're getting when they vote for them," she said. "They lean conservative on most issues — that's why they're Republicans. But they really do, I feel, do what is right — not politically right but morally right."
On Sunday, a liberal, union-supported issue advocacy group initially founded in 2005 to rally against President Bush’s Social Security reform plan was praising the three in ads in Maine and Pennsylvania.
"Senators Snowe and Collins have worked with President Obama and other senators to reach agreement on a plan that has support from a broad range of groups, including the US Chamber of Commerce and organized labor," says the version of the ad in Maine.
"Call Senators Snowe and Collins today at 202-224-3121. Thank them for their leadership and tell them to keep fighting for a plan to get our economy moving again."
But Collins, at least, has left herself some wiggle room on the final bill that emerges after House-Senate negotiations.
"Well, I know that some of my Republican colleagues are unhappy with the position that I've taken," Collins told FOX News. "I hope they will look at the fact that we were able to cut $110 billion of unnecessary spending from this bill. I think that's a good accomplishment.”
Yet she conceded that if a bill comes back from the conference committee with the House "once again bloated with wasteful spending and it's too expensive, then I'll vote against it."
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