Olympia Snowe talks about what has gone wrong in Washington, and why it doesn't have to be that way. September, 2013.
>> Dean Susan Collins: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Susan Collins, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and I'm delighted to see all of you here this afternoon. Today's event is part of our annual Citi Foundation Lecture Series. This Series enables the Ford School to bring some of the world's most prominent leaders and thinkers to campus. And I'm particularly honored to introduce a distinguished stateswoman who has served our country at the state and national levels for more than three decades, former U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.
[ Applause ]
Now, before I introduce her more fully, I do just want to thank Senator Snowe for being so very gracious with her time all day today. I wondered whether, as I know that she is used to spending time with another Susan Collins, that that might have perhaps helped her to feel part of our community so quickly. Senator Snowe, thank you so much for all of the time that you spent with our students and our faculty today. We have really, truly appreciated it. Throughout her entire political career, our country has known Senator Snowe as a dedicated moderate Republican legislator, advocating for compromise with her colleagues across the aisle. Because of the spirit and her commitment to national issues while loyally representing the interests of her constituents back home in Maine, Time Magazine once named her "one of the top 10 U.S. Senators," dubbing her "The Caretaker." Given this record, it really comes as no surprise that Senator Snowe has so many friends throughout Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, and this particular attribute, a determination to reach compromise, reminds me of our school's namesake, President Gerald R. Ford. 2013 marks the 100th anniversary of President Ford's birth, and as the University of Michigan continues to honor the legacy of our 38th President, I am just delighted to welcome to our campus someone who carries on the search for common ground in our government. Well, before I invite our speaker to the podium, I'd like to remind our audience that if you have a question for Senator Snowe, please write it on one of the cards that was passed out as you entered the auditorium. Ford School volunteers will begin collecting question cards at 4:40 p.m., and if you're watching online, you can submit your questions via Twitter using the hashtag #policytalks. Ford School professors Paul Karant and Liz Gerber will facilitate the question and answer session, and two of our students, Chris Montgomery from the Senator's home state of Maine, and Colleen Campbell, co-president of Women and Gender in Public Policy, will ask Senator Snowe your questions. And with that, I am so honored to invite Senator Snowe to the stage.
[ Applause ]
>> Olympia Snowe: Thank you very much, Dean Collins, for that very gracious and generous introduction. I'm delighted to be here this evening with all of you at the Rackham Auditorium, which is spectacular. In exchange for that, a tremendous introduction. I promise to heed the advice that was given to me by a very wise man some time ago, when he said, "Olympia, a great speech is one with a good beginning and a good ending, which are kept very close together." So I'm going to try to heed that advice. Well, a good beginning is to say what a pleasure it is for me to be here this evening at the extraordinary Gerald R. Ford Public Policy School at the exceptional University of Michigan. And while I happen to be a graduate of the University of Maine, we have more in common than you might think. For instance, when we cheer our sports teams, we say "Go blue." Of course, I could go on and sing Hail to the Victor's Valiant! Hail to the Conquering Heroes! but you wouldn't want to hear my voice. And anyways, I knew that would get your attention. But it is a pleasure to be here this evening. Most especially, as Dean Collins mentioned, this coincides with the centennial of President Gerald Ford's birth, as well as the near centennial of the School of Public Policy. And I just want to recognize Dean Collins, for her extraordinary, visionary and commanding leadership of this school, that I'm sure makes you all very proud to be an extraordinary part of the nationally and internationally acclaimed public policy program. I had the opportunity, as I was conveying to Dean Collins earlier, to visit with so many talented students as well as accomplished faculty. In fact, I had meeting with Professor John Ciorciari as well as Barry Rabe and of course, Professor Joe Schwarz, who was a former congressman and felt right at home in all of these classes. But Joe and I had an opportunity to share our views, and I guess how I was answering the questions was sort of replicating the curriculum that Joe is teaching in the classroom, and that's because we share the same point of view in terms of being on the political spectrum, but also most importantly our profound and deep concerns about the extremism in the political landscape that is having an effect on achieving results through governing, and that reality couldn't be more relevant to shaping the future of this country. And speaking of results, I have to say I know I'm in Ann Arbor and this is the district of Congressman John Dingell, with whom I had the pleasure of serving in Congress for 16 years, and of course I know his remarkable wife, Debbie, who happens to serve on the Advisory Board here at the Public Policy school. I have to tell you that John was a real champion on some of the issues that were important to all of us in his historic 58-year tenure in Congress. He happened to serve as Chair of the Commerce Committee, and I was Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues, which was a bipartisan caucus that I worked with Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, Democrat from Colorado. And we had discovered the women and minorities were systematically excluded from clinical study trials, and so we were very fortunate to have such a strong advocate and champion in John as Chair of the Committee, to help lead the charge for us, not only to prohibit such discriminatory policy, which frankly meant the difference between life and death when you're excluded from these clinical study trials at the National Institutes of Health, but also to create the Office of Women's Health, and ultimately to make sure that this prohibition would be strongly in place in perpetuity. And believe me, when you go before John Dingell's committee, you get grilled. And I know, I appeared that day along with NIH officials, and he was grilling them, so I knew that change was on the way. And I also have to say that I had the privilege as well of working with both Senator Levin and Senator Stabenow, who are outstanding and highly respected senators and dual on behalf of the state of Michigan. And of course, Senator Levin, I served with him on the Armed Services Committee, and he is obviously one of the foremost experts on national defense and international security, and Senator Stabenow, we served together in the Finance Committee, and worked in tandem on issues important to this state of Michigan as it is to my state of Maine, and that is how we can revive the manufacturing sector. And I just have to say, I applaud the auto industry and what has been able to be achieved over the last few years to create the resurgence and revival of that critical sector of our economy. But you know what, the bottom line is, that's what it's all about. I couldn't help but notice in the background that was given to me about the Public Policy School, there's one statement that describes it. "For those who are eager to lead and for those who are eager to find solutions." And on that note, let me say that you can be more fortunate with your associations since 1999, with a great American, obviously, who have embodied the very standards of the highest principles of this country, and was an example of true excellence, and that is of course, the 38th President of the United States, President Gerald Ford, who was a revered son of Michigan and a revered alum here of this esteemed university. President Ford will be forever remembered for his unassailable integrity and his decency during what was a very challenging and difficult time for this country. He devoted almost the entirety of his life to his country, and he represented the finest and the most ennobling ideals of public service. And throughout his tenure, he was a voice of civility, problem-solving, consensus-building and healing, and history will record that his contributions to this country were not only indispensable, that they were irrefutable. Our country looked to him for assurance, and it was his stalwart character, his disposition and his judgment that renewed our confidence in our country and restored the public trust in the Congress and the President, and reminded us of the strenght and the durability of the Constitution. He engendered a hope that tempered our anxieties and allowed us to look to the future with optimism. And the resonance of President Ford's pragmatism and bipartisan approach to governing was in stark contrast to the current political environment that exists today. As President Ford stated, the rededication of his Library, which keep in mind was 16 years ago, and he said, and I quote: "Many find it impossible to listen to each other because they're busy shouting at each other. In some quarters, civility is mistaken for weakness in compromise for surrender. Politics is a clash of ideas, not a blood sport. It is a contest of principles, not a holy war. So instead of blaming the people for their mistrust of government, maybe politicians in both parties should ask themselves why the public is so turned off to politics." Now, I probably could end my speech right there, but you're not going to get off the hook that quickly. But seriously, that our system is what it should be all about, a marketplace of ideas predicated on consensus building, not a battle of ideology that constantly is a drive towards where no prisoners are taken. It's a concept that was well underscored by the highly regarded journalist Cokie Roberts, who was the daughter of Hale Boggs, who was the late Democratic Majority leader in the House of Representatives, and he happned to serve at a time when then Gerald Ford was a minority leader in the House of Representatives. And First Lady Betty Ford, who was a remarkable individual in her own right, asked Cokie to speak at her funeral, about a time in Washington where Democrats and Republicans were friends, when their families were friends, and that the main message was that she wanted to say, is that when you're friends, government works. And that's really how much it meant to both President Ford and Betty Ford, and that's exactly the picture that Cokie ultimately portrayed and depicted in such eloquence, when she said at the time of her funeral: "They weren't questioning each other's motives, much less their commitment to their country." Indeed, I think it's incredibly illustrative of President Ford that as Congressman Heyser pointed out a couple of years ago, that the inscription of President Ford's statue at the base at the pedestal, was from a Democrat, a former House Speaker, Tip O'Neill, who said: "Ford was the right man at the right time to put our nation back together again." Well, today, I would add that that spirit of bipartisanship, comity and conciliation embodied by President Ford, is the right way to put our political system and the government back on course. And that's exactly what I would like to discuss with you this evening, how the government and Congress has gotten off track, what has contributed to undermining the political process, and what's behind the breakdown, and what is it that we can do to make our government work again. This is the first of 40 years in which I am no longer serving in the legislative branch of government, and as you can imagine, over those last 40 years and 34 of which I served in both the U.S. House and the United States Senate, I've had many experiences, some good and some not so good. It reminds me of a story that the late Senator Charlie Mathias, "Mac" Mathias of Maryland, who was a moderate Republican, told me at one time. Senator Mathias owned a home on the Island of Isle au Haut off the coast of Maine that required taking a ferry from the mainland to the island. And one day, Senator Mathias happened to be on the ferry and the ferry operator recognized him, and he said, "You're Senator Mathias, aren't you?" And Senator Mathias said, "Yes, I am." And so they began a conversation, and during the course of their discussion, the operator said, "Well, there must be a lot of smart people in Washington, aren't there?" And Senator Mathias said, "Well, yes, there are." And so the ferry operator said, "Well, I bet that there are a lot of people that aren't so smart as well." And Senator Mathias said, "Yes, I would have to agree with you on that, too," to which the ferry operator quickly responded, "It must be getting harder and harder to tell the difference." Well, you know, back in the '70s it probably was amusing, but you know, so much has changed and it may be closer to the reality. But actually, there are a lot of smart people in Washington. I've had the privilege and the opportunity to witness government's potential, Congress, in working with the President and the President with Congress, and there have been many instances where there was collaboration that produced result. But unfortunately, those instances are fewer and fewer. I was in Congress long enough to experience firsthand what can be accomplished if people are determined to solve problems, irrespective of the differences in their political and philosophical backgrounds. I saw from the beginning when I entered the House of Representatives in 1979 -- I was one of 16 women in the House of Representatives, and there was one woman serving the United States Senate. And I joined the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues as I mentioned earlier. And at that time it had been formed by then a Democratic Congresswoman, Liz Holtzman, who was a pro-choice Democrat and a pro-life Republican Margaret Heckler. And they set aside their differences so they could work on issues that matter to women, particularly at the time when the laws were working and discriminating against women and not reflecting their dual roles, both at home and in the workplace. And so they set about to concentrate on that agenda. I ultimately became co-chair of that caucus for more than a decade. But when we spoke to those issues, we spoke as women first, not as Republicans and not as Democrats, and so we were able to transcend our differences and drove our agenda, and we made a real difference for women. And it was a time in America where it's difficult to comprehend in today's environment, where pensions were cancelled without spouses being notified, where child support enforcement was a woman's problem, where family and medical leave was not the law of the land, and as I discussed previously about the discriminatory policy that was embedded at the National Institutes of Health when it came to clinical study trials. But we changed all of that, and produced life-saving discoveries that was making a difference even to this day. But the point is, we summoned a can-do spirit, and our collaborative efforts produced results.
And we saw that time and again. When President Reagan assumed office, he was facing the twin consequential events, but with the Iranian hostage crisis as well as an economic environment where we had double-digit inflation, unemployment, prime interest rates of 20%, we had an energy crisis. And so President Reagan understood that he had to build a coalition in a Democratic House to make sure that he could engineer his economic plan. And I was part of that coalition, but it worked, and we were able to pass a major budget in order to try to revive the economy. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush, when we were having to face the event of Iraq invading Kuwait, President Bush, six to seven months earlier, began to build that coalition, both with the international community as well as within Congress, in order to set the groundwork for the authorization to use force, which ultimately happened to repel Iraq's evasion. He also broke a pivotal budget agreement for which he ultimately paid a political price. And then, of course, President Clinton, he had worked with a Republican Congress, and he believed in triangulation and staking out positions that weren't perhaps traditionally democratic positions, but on issues that were important to Republicans, at the time, whether it was on tax cuts, on welfare reform, and/or on balanced budgets. And in fact, at one point, when he was delivering his State of the Union address, he mentioned all of these issues that were traditional Republican planks, and we know that invitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and former President Reagan at the time said, you know, "that's tantamount to grand larceny." But President Clinton understood that he had to work with a Republican Congress, and he did, and we not only achieved tax reductions, we had balanced budgets for the first time. For four consecutive years it produced surpluses since the 1930s, as well as an overhaul of our wealthier system, which became landmark legislation. In 2001, after President George W. Bush was elected we ended up having a 50/50 Senate, and I joined the centrist coalition that had been revived since it was created back in the early '90s in the Senate during the healthcare debate in the early years of the Clinton Administration. And at that time, Senator Daschle and Senator Lott was the minority/majority leader, came to our coalition meeting because we now had a 50/50 Senate, we had major issues to address in the aftermath of the Bush-Gore decision from the Supreme Court, and we wanted to make sure that we could preserve the bipartisanship that was so essential to driving a critical agenda for the country. And we had more than a quarter of the United States Senate show up for this meeting evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. President George W. Bush was able to pass the largest tax cut in history in the first six months, given the fact that the tax burden had been the highest since World War II, as well as educationalk reform that he had worked in tandem with then the late Senator Ted Kennedy. But the point was that they worked in concert in a bipartisan, collaborative effort, to make things happen and not letting differences get in the way. These types of collaborative efforts I think demonstrates a can-do spirit that generally was the hallmark of the legislative process, working with the President of the United States. Well, I made the difficult decision last year not to seek re-election to the Senate for a fourth term. And I came to the cold, stark reality that the polarization and the partisanship in the Congress would not diminish on the short-term and that I should take my fight outside of the institution and in a different direction. And as we can see, the perilous inaction, the dynamics that are underway persistently and consistently in the Congress, continues to grow ever worse, even with an intervening election. Just think about it, it was two years ago when the poisonous political environment in Washington produced the legislative and financial brinkmanship at its very worst with the debt ceiling debacle of 2011. And we saw that it triggered the downgrade of our AAA credit rating for the first time ever, to the point that it produced, according to three economists, the highest level of policy uncertainty of any event that had transpired over the last 20 years, whether it was the Persian Gulf war, the horrific events of September 11, the Iran and Afghanistan War, the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and of course, the financial crisis. But it tells you the degree to which it sent shock waves across the country, if not around the world. In fact, Chairman Bernanke said not too long ago in his testimony before Congress, that if there hadn't been this state of uncertainy for the last four years and the polarizing debate, that we would have unemployment levels near 6% to 7% rather than the consistently 8 to 9% that had characterized most of the last four to five years. The point is that we continue to face self-engineered and manufactured crises with Congress. The last Congress was book-ended as well with the so-called Fiscal Cliff Agreement, which was the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, along with the automatic tax cuts that were created by the debt ceiling agreement after the Supercommittee had failed. And it culminated in the last vote for me, but it happened to be the last vote of the last session, at 2 o'clock on New Year's day morning. Now, I think that that's illustrative of a process gone seriously awry. It wasn't as if we had a jam-packed schedule all year and we couldn't meet the dealines. But again, it took that problem up to the 11th hour. So it's legislating by deferral and brinkmanship, which is no way to govern a great nation, let alone lurching from self-engineered crisis to self-engineered crisis. Which brings me to August of this year. The Congress adjourned precisely on the two-year anniversary of the debt ceiling fiasco for their five-week recess, all the while knowing the prospects of a potential government shutdown was looming, and of course, a possible reprisal of the debt ceiling crisis that would be imminent by no later than mid-October. They did predictably what Congress always does which is the one certainty is to take their recess because they thought they'll just ignore the problem and of course return back in September and then deal with the crises that they have left languishing on the table. As the Capitol Hill Newspaper Politico stated: "The Farm Bill isn't done, the Appropriation Bill is in shambles, and the immigration reform is stagnant, and Congress is heading for the exit." You would think they would not want to invite any more trauma on the American people, as if they haven't endured enough. But yet Congress, as you all know, returned one week after Labor Day, only to be confronted with the unexpected, which was the extremely difficult and complex question as whether or not to give the President authorization to launch strikes in Syria, that's now on diplomatic hold. But it demonstrates the degree to which we have short-changed the capacity of this country to grapple with key issues because it's a country that's run by deferral, delay, and default. I can well recall as a member of the Senate Finance Committee back in 2011 when it was obvious we were going to have a problem with the debt ceiling because originally that ceiling was scheduled to be raised mid-March, and yet Congress didn't do anything when they got back in January, and then it got put off till May and then of course, till August a second. And the Chair of Finance Committee, to his credit, convened a meeting at some point, said, you know, I think we really should try to weigh in, try to avert a crisis and work on a debt reduction agreement so that we can bring both sides together. And I said at the time we've got to do something right. We are going to waste another two years in the precious life of America, and we could ill afford to do that, given the economic problems that were facing our country. Obviously that didn't materialize because both sides had stood down. And to that very point, Tom Freedman underscored this issue in a com that he wrote back in April. He said, we wasted a time out for the last five years, when we could have been focusing on healing the economy without a geopolitical conflict, without a global rattling conflict, that we could have been focusing on this key issue. And yet now, he says there could be multiple actors set to draw red lines. And he included among the countries of course, was Syria, and that is precisely the circumstance that we're now facing today. The point is is that the status quo of embracing politics over policy has betrayed the opportunities that Tom Freedman discussed, and it betrayed the can-do spirit that has always been the hallmark of America. The art of legislating has basically been abandoned for the gotcha votes in the United States Congress, and that's how I have described it. It's always about getting the other side, to get the upper hand politically, to leverage your position to the disadvantage of the other. And so rather than legislating, they do messaging. You might hear, they send messages with their amendments, the way they crack positions, how they're going to structure the vote, so that they can send the message to their political primary base rather than designing solutions that will appeal to the broader electorate and to broader population that will actually solve the problems in this country. But they're much more predisposed to creating a 30-second soundbite that they can use in the next election. And I think indicative of that process, of course, is the budget. Now, the regular appropriation process has collapsed. We sort of have semi-annual budgets in Congress because we can't pass an annual budget. It's hard to imagine that the largest economy in America has not had a budget in four years. Now, Congress passed this year with great fanfare, no budget, no pay to a point. It was no pay if they didn't pass a budget in their respective chambers, but they didn't say anything about it becoming law, which is required by April 15. Of course, that's long since gone, as you know, and it hasn't occurred. It's absolutely shameful. It's a travesty, because the Senate has passed 0 appropriations out of the 12 that are designed to fund the government, which is what this shutdown's going to be all about at the end of the month, because at the end of the fiscal year and the beginning of the new one, and the House has passed the four, and yet they only have 7 legislative days remaining to this month. You know things are bad when the House actually has in fact cancelled their recess this next week, realizing that they have very few days left to figure out how they're going to extricate themselves to a crisis, or to include a showdown on the key question of whether or not to continue the funding of government without extracting some conditions on the question of the Affordable Care Act. What's really incredible is that leaders from both parties recognize either a government shutdown or failing to raise the debt ceiling is a disastrous path for this country. But it's yet like ships passing in the night, the Democrats and the Republicans, one on the Atlantic and the other in the Pacific. And then it's because it passed wildly divergent budgets, frankly.
And as one paper described them, it's not even a version of apples and oranges, it's more like apples and bicycles, because their budgets are ideological battle plans for the political parties, for their base. They're not designed to be blueprints for the fiscal future of this country in doing what's right. And it's not just that they're 90 to 100 billion dollars apart. That wouldn't be insurmountable under normal legislative conditions, but what we're addressing here is the fact that there are philosophical differences that are sort of light years apart on keystone issues such as entitlement reform, on spending, and on taxes in a Congress that is steeped and immersed in a harsh, political environment, and that's what really makes the difference. So as a result, the Congress is now perpetuating dual self-inflicted wounds once again, between the government shutdown, potentially, and/or a debt ceiling crisis because of all the conditions that are now being placed in the House of Representatives. The question's really going to be whether or not that either side can dislodge from their ideological trenches, and exacerbating this struggle, of course, is that you have in one camp, the Republicans who are insisting on conditioning either extending the funding of government or raising the debt ceiling on defunding the Affordable Care Act or delaying funding for a year. On the other hand, the Republican leaders recognize that the realism of that strategy is impossible since the President has flatly rejected any attempts to delay or to defund the Affordable Care Act, which of course is his signature legacy issue. To further complicate the scenario, the automatic cuts. The Democrats would like to mitigate the impact of social programs by raising taxes. On the other hand Republicans are wanting to ease the impact on defense by extracting savings from entitlements, programs or entitlement reform. And the Democrats are saying that all has to be part of a broader agreement that includes tax increases. Republicans will say, no, we've given at the office. We agree to the fiscal cliff agreement early this year, that includes raises taxes on the upper income, and so they are rejecting the idea of raising any taxes. So that's the stand-down that ultimately has occurred, and as a result, the leaders and the President are going to have to inevitably decide on a strategy to how they're going to get the government funded before the end of this month, let alone in raising the debt ceiling. It really does require the President and the leadership in both the House and Senate to sit down and to sketch out a framework and a strategy for dealing not only in the short term, but how to address the long-term on the key issues that matter when it comes to the future of this country. Now, the House Speaker has said he's not going to raise the debt ceiling without cuts and entitlement spending, or any cuts in spending that are greater than the increase in the debt ceiling, and of course the President said there are no preconditions and the debt ceiling increase vote is non-negotiable. Now, some have said, you know, we may be able to go back to what we proposed in the past, which was to raise the debt ceiling, not to raise the debt ceiling, lawmakers can vote against it and have the President take responsibility for raising it. That's hardly responsible. And then on the other hand, what they did earlier this year was to suspend raising the debt ceiling. Now, you would have thought in that instance that they would have taken that opportunity to forge a path forward, but unfortunately they didn't, and so now we're up against a crisis scenario. Ezezro Klein said from the Washington Post with respect to the debt ceiling question. He said, both parties' positions are mutually exclusive, and what concerns him is he doesn't know what change is in either one of those positions to prevent a breach of the debt ceiling that will occur by mid-October. What is required is obvious to all of you, it's certainly obvious to me, and I'm sure it's obvious to most Americans that I have talked to, and that is the issue of compromise and consensus. Not too long ago the formal majority leader Bob Dole said that compromise isn't a dirty word. In fact, when Bob Dole was Majority Leader it was my first years in the Senate, and anytime there was a difference either among Republicans or between Republicans and Democrats on key issues, he would ask us to meet in his conference room at 8:30 in the morning, and he would say in his classic way, "work it out." And that's exactly what we did, we worked it out. Instead of standing on the precipice of a cliff for each side angling for a political leverage, you would have thought that they would have appointed a House Senate Budget Conference Committee to resolve and reconcile those differences. I know that that sounds like an ancient legislative relic, but that's really how the legislative process used to work. That's where you would work out your differences, face to face, communicating with one another, and sorting through the differences. I served on the Budget Committee for 8 years in the Senate, 2 years in the House, and I know there was some very deep differences but at the end of the day you could work it out. Now, those conference committees are substituted by these 11th hour agreements that are behind closed doors, back room negotiations, no transparency, no accountability, and inevitably poor policy. Indeed, I think that Washington's abrogation of its leadership has unnecessarily brought us to this tipping point in this country, particularly in the context of the economic environment in which we exist. I mean, we are persistently subpar growth and high unemployment numbes for where we should be today in America. This is the worst post-recession recovery in the history of our country, so it's no wonder you have the longest term unemployed, and breaking records in that regard, the lowest number of employed Americans in 35 years, you have income inequality the greatest since the 1920s. As one economist said you're basically "treading water," exactly, because we're not creating the kind of jobs that this recovery should be generating, and that's because of the failure and neglect of the key policy issues in Washington on regulatory policy and on tax reform that could have made indispensable difference. And that's frankly, the issues that have really I think, contributed to America's frustration, disenchantment with the governing institutions in Washington. When you see the level of debt, today they're saying heralding, the debt's come down. Yes it has on the short term because of several one-time events which is tax increases earlier this year, some one-time policy changes with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. But the CBO just issued this week, look at the long-term -- the long-term being 2016 -- we're in unchartered waters. The debt today stands at 73% of the gross domestic product. The end of 2007, it was 36%. And the debt is going to continue to skyrocket because of the demographics, and what it portends for Medicare and Medicaid and social security since 77 million Americans are set to expire over the next 20 years, and that's at a rate of 10,000 people a year. And so as Bloomberg's article stated recently, the neglect of Congress and its failure to address debt and deficits, and neglecting the economic growth issues of this country that's affecting our global competitiveness is no longer debatable. But it's no longer debatable that the corrosive impact of Congress's inertia inaction is having on the future prosperity of this country. That is the cornucopia of dysfunction that yes, did contribute to my decisions, what I described in the book that I wrote and why people always ask me, why is it so challenging to achieve bipartisan solutions in Congress today? Why can't Congress solve at least the major challenges facing this country? And frankly, that's why I made my decision to leave the Senate. It's not that I no longer believed in its potential or that I no longer loved the institution, but precisely that I do. But I decided that I should take my fight, as I said earlier, outside the institution in a different direction to harness my experience, my knowledge of how the process works, and to give voice to the frustration to 90% of the American people who think that Congress is far too partisan, and they're certainly right. As I described in my book, is how it used to work. Frankly, what surprised me more than not running for re-election in the United States Senate, is that I wrote a book I had not intended. That was not my agenda. But as somebody said, it was fun to have written a book, it's not fun to write a book. And I can attest to that. But I decided to write the book, because I wanted people to know there was a different way, because I got that question constantly, even among some of my newer colleagues. How was it different? And it was different, and it can be different and it doesn't have to be this way, and that's why I'm so passionate about changing the tenor of Congress. The fact of the matter is, I have experienced throughout my tenure that bipartisan legislative partnerships are absolutely crucial, if not indispensable, to maximizing the potential of our governing institutions and to minimizing the political barriers, because there is simply no other way. Now, it's not easy to arrive at compromise, it never is, but we can undertake the difficult work if we choose to do so. Some people will say oh, you're talking about some golden era bipartisanship. It's never easy to work through your differences if you feel strongly and passionately about some views, but I don't know how you solve problems if you don't talk to people with whom you disagree. So I describe in my book the political phenomena, and how it has contributed to the monumental partisanship that we're grappling with today. It is true that the red states are getting redder and the blue states are getting bluer. In 1987, there were 57 senators who represented one party, but their states voted for the presidential candidate of the opposing party. Today, there are only 21 senators in that position. So what that suggests is is that 79% of the senates have very little political incentive to cross the political aisle without the fear or the risk of incurring a primary challenge. The statistician, Nate Silver, did an analysis of the House of Representatives. 20 years ago, a little more than 20 years ago, there were 102 seats at a 435, that were viewed to be competitive seats. Today, in his study, he has determined that there were only 35 competitive seats. There was a another study, Fairvote, that said there were only 21 toss-up seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Charlie Cook, the political analyst, said there were only 9. So that means that most of these elections are pre-determined before any election occurs. The National Journal demonstrates in its analysis, how this new trend in politics has contributed to the rise in the polarization and the partisanship that we're experiencing today. They began a review back in 1982, and at that time there were 58 senators who came between the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican. That meant that more than half the Senate occupied the middle ground. Today, for the third year in a row and for the fourth time ever, the number of Senators who fall into that category is literally zero. So that means that there is no Democrat who is more conservative than a Republican, and there's no Republican who is more liberal than a Democrat, and so there is very little crossover. In the House of Representatives in 1982, they had 344 members who were in the middle ground who would work on a bipartisan basis on various issues. Today, there are only 13 out of 435. So you can see how there is this ideological stand-down in both sides in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate. Indeed, in one study by three political scientists, determined that we are at the highest level of polarization since the end of reconstruction in 1879.
And what does that tell you, in more than 134 years that we are more polarized than at any other moment. Now, some people will say, we've always had gridlock. Well, of course there'd been gridlock. And he said, it's been worse in the institution of the United States Senate. We had duals and canings and brawls, and I said, well, is that the standard by which we want to measure the United States Senate in the second decade of the 21st century? In early December, the majority leader, the minority leader of the Senate, decided to invite senators and their spouses and some staffers to a viewing of the phenomenol movie "Lincoln," in the National Visitors Center Auditorium to aspire some collegiality because we had the imminent fiscal cliff crisis looming. And so we did, but I thought to myself, what does it say that we're looking to Hollywood for a dose of reality? So obviously that didn't work. We're in the institutions of the United States Senate. We're surrounded by history, but obviously not inspired by it. I'm concerned, because there's very little institutional memory of how the process worked. Today you have more than half the Senate that has had less than 6 years' experience and more than half of the U.S. House of Representatives has less than 6 years' experience, but what that tells you bottom line is is that they're not familiar with any of the legislative environment other than the current one of dysfunction. There used to be a time when governing was the guiding principle in the first year after the election. You could expect to work on the issues and go forward with the agenda and synchronization between the White House and the legislative branch. It's not that it was all hunky dory, it wasn't, but we understood for the best interests of the country, that we had to move forward on the identifiable issues at the time. Now it is focusing on the next election after the last election. In fact, we have lost the art of legislating. So many times I had threatened to go to the floor and to have some charts and to do a refresher course on how a bill becomes law. Like in Schoolhouse Rocks, you can say -- you put the bill in the hopper and you go from there. But the point is it's true because the legislator process has been virtually abandoned, so it's not surprising then, that the last Congress was the least productive since 1947. And in that Congress, it was the 80th Congress that President Truman described as the do nothing Congress. They passed 906 bills, contrasting that with the 283 bills that were passed in the last session of Congress. So you can see, we're really not on the right track. Now, some will say, oh, you don't need to pass bills to show that you're doing something, but that would be presuming they did everything else. But obviously they haven't. In fact, they've only passed 31 bills this year. And of course, that's contributing to the low rankings of approval rating. The last Congress towards the end it was like 10%, to which one of my former colleagues said, "Who exactly is that 10% who thinks that Congress is doing a good job?" And now, the congressional approval ratings went up about 5 points in this last week. And I guess one of the newspapers notice, was it's likely they don't have anything to hide, because some people now see Congress do nothing as an improvement. In any event, Will Rogers used to say, "This Congress has come to feel the same. When Congress is in session is when the baby gets hold of a hammer." But it's just sort of where we're at. Very noted congressional observers, whom you'd be familiar with because they have advanced degrees from the University of Michigan, that's Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann, who I know, spoke here this last year, and I remember them saying, "You know, people always say this is the worst Congress ever. But they said, this time they're right." Well, you know, root canals are more popular than Congress if you look at some of the polls. But the point I think it is, is the demonstrating that we're at a point where we don't have the ability to solve the key problems facing this country. So the key question is, How do we get the Congress back on track? Because basically, that's what it's all about. I'm a can-do person. I know you, this country is a can-do country. And of course, I never give up. My Spartan ancestries contributes to that drive and determination. But the point is, we need to be valuing bipartisanship and consensus building among our lawmakers in Congress. We need to reward those individuals who are willing to champion the propositions of compromise, are willing to work across the political aisle, and to penalize those that don't. And I have created a multi-candidate committee, Olympia's, because I am going to support candidates on both sides who are willing to maximze the power of elective office by doing what's right and coming up with sensible solutions at times if the country deserves it. I have joined the Bipartisan Policy Center, which was co-founded by four former majority leaders of the United States Senate, Senator Daschle, Senator Mitchell, Senator Dole and Senator Baker, and we created a Citizens for Political Reform movement and we believe that we can create a critical mass to launch in real-time and demand accountability from our lawmakers to work on issues, come up with solutions, why is immigration reform stagnating, why haven't they passed a budget? Why do they go out on recesses when they haven't passed a budget, when they haven't passed one of the 12 appropriations to become law? Why are they facing alol these crises? We need to demand accountability. And it's all at our fingertips, frankly. If we have online technology, we have social media, and we ought to be able to use the power of those venues to make our voices heard, just as those who fan the flames of polarization and manifest it in the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, an infinite number of other groups, the same is true for those who want to mobilize people in this country who are demanding that their government should work. There are too many perverse incentives, and the incentives are to divide, to thwart action, to encourage incendiary rhetoric so they can take it to the next election. So the forces of division are well organized and they're well funded. So we have to be a counterweight to that extremism, and so that's why we have to champion those who are willing to work to fix our country's problems and to take the risk of working with each other instead of against each other, because ultimately, that's what it's all about. You know, Warren Rudman, the late senator from the State of New Hampshire, said once: "Politics is too important to be left to the politicians." Well, he couldn't have been more right. It requires each of us to be engaged in that proposition. That's why my book is going to be an extension of that because I believe so strongly that we must turn this culture around before it becomes permanently embedded, and thinking that this is the norm rather than the exception. And to the young people, to the students in the audience, don't take your cues from Washington, frankly, because collaboration and consensus building are really the only roots to solutions. They're the ones, I think, that ultimately produce the ideal results that can move our country forward. I don't know of any other way, because unless you have all of the votes, then you have to work with the other side, that you're not always going to get 100% of what you want, that you have to respect differing views, and that you don't have a monopoly on all the great ideas. It isn't a question whether or not it's a Republican idea, a Democratic idea, or a liberal or conservative idea, is it a good idea for the country? And so often today, as I always used to describe how I was regarded, is that we're defined through the prism of MSNBC and Fox News. You're either on one side or the other. There's no sorting through the truth, and so you get those polarizing, polar opposite views, rather than understanding and having the access to the differing propositions that can bring both sides together. The problem in the legislative process, if you don't have amendments and the ability to have both sides working together, you don't have a bridge for making the process work. There's no other way to bring both sides together. It is one thing to each offer your own positions and have votes on them, but when they don't prevail, you need to reconcile those differences, and that's precisely what is not happening. So the United States Senate has become more like a parliamentary system. As Americans, we have met our greatest challenges by working together without question, and that's why I happen to believe that we need to build a real-time grassroots movement to demand accountability and action from our lawmakers. We look at the FAA issue that was earlier this year, the result of the automatic cuts or the sequestration. And sequesters took effect in early March, and the Congress, a week before, went on recess. Well, of course, there was a human cry because there was a slowdown in flights due to the cutbacks and the traffic controllers. Well, the Congress immediately went to work like in nanoseconds for Congress, because they didn't want to be caught stuck in planes with angry constituents idling on the tarmack, and the pilot saying, "Sorry, folks, this is due to congressional budget cuts." So they immediately turned it around. And so that's the point. They did it recently in July on the student loan interest rate issue, because they understood, rightfully, that that was going to prompt a major outcry, as it should. So it's about those voices. People say about background checks, the 90/10, 90% of Americans approved it, 10% didn't. And people asked me, "Well, why didn't it happen?" And I said, "It's about the 10%." We have to make our voices heard, and too often we underestimate that. And I want to convey that point, because I've told people that you should not minimize the impact of your voice and underestimate the value of your input when you're calling your representative or your senator or e-mailing them or sending them letter. If they don't hear from you, they don't have the input and they don't have the impact. If they hear from you, it can make a difference. It does make a difference, so you can not minimize your voices, and particularly at this time. And it demands our action on our part. I'm convinced of it, because I don't believe that it's going to happen from the inside. We have to make divided government work. If it's a divided government between the two parties, then we have to make it work and they have a responsibility to make it work. As someone once said, "Bipartisanship isn't a political theory, it's a political necessity." I happen to think that public service is a very high and noble calling and that's why I devoted much of my life to it and I made it my life's work because I loved it, because I understood the value of using the office for good and righting wrongs and helping people and solving problems. That's what it's really all about, and they've lost their way in terms of the purpose of what it's all about, and I think that we have an obligation to restore it, and indeed demand it. If I look at the origins of our country, this great country of ours, when the founding fathers, they weren't shrinking violets. They were deeply opinionated, sharply divided. They argued about many things, petty and consequential. But at the end of the day, they're recognized. The enormity and the gravity of the circumstances demanded the courage to offer consensus to build the United States of America and the most ingenuous document the world has ever known. I want to make Congress the solution driven powerhouse that it once was, and that's reflective and emblematic of the can-do America that we have known and that we will know again, and I believe we can recapture that spirit once again for the sake of America. So I thank you for inviting me to speak here this evening, and I'd be delighted to answer your questions. Thank you.
[ Applause ]
>> Colleen Campbell: Good evening, Senator Snowe.
>> Olympia Snowe: Good afternoon -- hi, Colleen.
>> Colleen Campbell: My name is Colleen Campbell and I'm a second year student at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and also in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education. The first question from the audience is what training and skills are important for women who are interested in entering politics today?
>> Olympia Snowe: Well, obviously it's pursuing a major, as you are here in public policy because I think that is critically important, gives you grounding and a background. I have a major in political science. I had hoped to work in government and contemplated at the time of running for Congress or for serving in elected office early on, but I truly loved politics from an early age. I always say that I didn't have a resume; look what happened. I had a life in politics. So that's very important. It's also I think, being involved in the local community, building a network of support. I think so often women didn't have that network of support, whether it's financially or organizationally. I think so much has changed today in that regard. Working with candidates, running for office, get to know what it's like, get familiar with it. That's another way that is possible to broaden your horizons and give you a better grounding and understanding of what it's all about and what it seems to be like. I don't know that there's any template, because many individuals come from all different corners of life. In fact, when I was in the Senate, when there were only 9 women in the Senate instead of 20, we wrote a book "Nine and Counting." And it was interesting just to see the variety in terms of our backgrounds in what launched our careers in public office. And so there isn't any one template, but is nurturing and interest in the world around you, whether it's through organizations, the community or a passion for an issue. I think passion is very important. Believe in what you're doing. You might not see yourself as an elected official. I don't think that I ever saw myself an elected official, but I felt strongly about issues and I liked helping others. I was telling a class earlier today, that I actually discovered how I liked talking to people I didn't know, by being a waitress in high school.
And I realize that that was a very important experience for me, because my employer said, "Olympia, you got to talk to people. Be friendly to them." So I started talking, then I ended up talking too much. But anyways, I finally struck a balance; otherwise, he would have fired me. In any event, but it's just those things. And then I did a couple of internships in government when I was in college. One was working for the technical assistant for Head Start, which was very interesting, because it was part of the War on Poverty program and it was just getting up and running. And so I was introduced to Head Start program, which became one of my favorite programs and one that I gave my undue support to, in fact. And then the following summer, I worked for an individual who was a professor at Colby College, and he was setting up the state planning office, and so I got to work with him hand and glove and with a governor. So that was quite an experience. And so that all contributed and fused my thinking about the future and about politics.
>> Chris Montgomery: Hi, Senator Snowe. My name's Chris Montgomery. I'm a Master's of Public Policy candidate with Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
>> Olympia Snowe: And a Mainer.
>> Chris Montgomery: And a Mainer. Honored to have you here.
>> Olympia Snowe: Thank you.
>> Chris Montgomery: If you were coming of age politically in today's America, would you join the Republican party and this question comes from Twitter.
>> Olympia Snowe: That's an interesting question. That's a tough one. I think it would be hard. People ask me, why am I Republican? I used to get asked that all the time, by Republicans. Actually, some Democrats, too. They asked me to switch parties, that sort of thing. And it was a fundamental issue. It was a question of the role of government that my philosophy. And I just early on decided that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is what role government should play and when, and I was sort of last resort/first resort, depending on the issue, that the government has to be there to provide that safety net and government plays a key role when others can't. But I don't want government to always play a role and to be always in our lives. So it has to orchestrate the right equilibrium. So it's more philosophical, and our party has sort of abandoned the notion in some ways, of the issues that I think are important and calibrate those differences. There are times it matters for government to play a role. It really does. You think about America today without social security, without Medicare, all of those great programs, civil rights. They all were embraced on a strong bipartisan basis, and that's why they have been woven into the fabric of our great nation. And so I see the difference, and when people say, Call me a Republican in name only, I've always been a Republican, and I know why I became a Republican. I haven't changed my party hats. Now, I know there was a cartoon in the New York Times after I announced that I was not running again, comparing me -- talking about the way of moderate Republicans, and at the end it showed moderate Republicans in a museum with the dodo bird. But it's like, in any event, I realize there are a few of us, but I know why I'm a Republican. But it would be hard under the circumstances to see the party as it is today, to say, yeah, that's who I am. And so I would say that would be very difficult, and it would be a conundrum, because they're philsophically different but not for all the other issues. There was a time when they embraced the diversity -- had your differences but we all worked together because that was that Big Tent theory that even President Reagan espoused. He understood we had differences. He said, but we agree on 80% on the issues, whether it's on taxes and the role of government, spending, so on. But the bottom line is, that's what we should unite around, and not focus on the 20% on which we disagree. But now it's moved in obvious different direction, so I hope the party changes, because it'll need to if it wants to ever be a governing majority in the future, and reflect the diversity of America and have far more balance to approach the issues that matter to Americans.
>> Colleen Campbell: Senator Snowe, we've received several questions about third parties. Do you think there are any prospects for the emergence of a meaningful third party?
>> Olympia Snowe: Probably not on the short term, but it just adds a huge complexity to our political system, which we're not based. It's operated essentially on a two-party system. You know, in Maine, we've had independents, we've had independent governors, have an independent senator who succeeded me in the United States Senate. There are other independent officials across the country, but by and large, you would hope that the two-party system, and it's their responsibility to make it work, frankly, but if it doesn't work, then obviously it does contribute to the genesis of third parties, and adds to the difficulties that can arise when you start to fracture that political system. But the governing institutions of our country control both parties, and so both parties have a responsiblity to make it work in the final analysis, but if it doesn't, then obviously people are going to choose another way. And so I think that's what manifests the frustration and rightfully so, because government's not working as it is today, and it's not reflective of who we are.
>> Senator Snowe, having worked with many presidents, how would you compare the Obama Administration's communication with Congress with that of other administrations?
>> Olympia Snowe: How would I compare President Obama's Administration in its communication with Congress with previous administrations? Much less. I had the opportunity to work with the President particularly in the health care legislation that ultimately became law, but for the most part it's been minimal. And frankly, that's been a problem. The President has to engage the Congress, and obviously the Congress has to be willing to be engaged with the President. I mean, obviously it's a two-way street, but it has to work. You can't have the legislative and executive branches working at parallel universes. They have to intersect. And it's been my experience with previous administrations that the President's weighed in, considerably. It's not as if that they had to be there each and every day working hand in glove with Congress. Obviously they have their people representing them, but the fact is that they have to engage the Congress, agree on the kinds of issues that have to be addressed by Congress, what the timeline is and how to get it done, where are the differences, have bipartisan leadership meetings on a regular basis. I mean, President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill had vast philosophical differences and they had huge fights and tough words between them, but at the end of the day, they understood what was important for the country, they would get together for dinner on a regular basis and work it out, because they understood what their roles were obviously, and presenting their positions and viewpoints, but at the end, they concluded what was necessary for the country, and they understood the give and take. There is nothing wrong with that. That's what made the process work. And so that has been true. And in this case, I think that President Obama just has not regularlized leadership meetings. He should have a leadership down there on a consistent basis so they get to know one another, what's on their minds, what they're thinking, what the problems are, how can we get this done, and drive it. That's what it's all about. In fact, I said, you should embrace the Reagan model, because that's what I saw. He was dealing with these consequential events in 1981. I mean, he had everything on the spectrum, for emergencies, frankly at the time. President Reagan understood it, but he had his people who were well-disciplined, focused, came up on the Hill and worked hand in glove with people who wanted to make it work. So I was in so many of those coalitions. We got the budgets done. We worked on a variety of issues, but they were up on the Hill all the time. And you'll hear even Democrats say, that they haven't been contacted by people who represent the White House, haven't been contacted by the President, leaders -- even in his own party, with regular communications. You have to have that to make it work. The same is true between the leaders in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives. You can't get anything done if you're not talking to each other. And I know, and that is a serious problem, both internally in the Congress, but also between the President and the Congress. So I think of all the Presidents, this has been the most minimal in terms of contacts, and building a relationship with the legislative branch. I consider myself the exception because I spent a lot of time with the President on the health care issue but overall in terms of the interactions the President has had. He made overtures this year -- to his credit -- he did have some diners and people describe it as the charm offensive, but it has to get beyond that. It has to get into the substance and work. And the same is true on the Republican side. They've got to be willing to engage and to compromise and to be flexible. You can't get it done if you get locked down, if you refuse to work it out, and that's basically what's happened.
>> Colleen Campbell: Do you foresee any meaningful filibuster reform in the near future? Would this be an effective way to confront congressional gridlock?
>> Olympia Snowe: It may well. It's tempered in some ways for the moment. They had a temporary agreement, although it almost hit a snag in the middle of the summer on this so-called nuclear option, which would be jettison 60-vote requirement for nominations. And ultimately, they reached an agreement. They reached an agreement at the beginning of the Congress between the majority/minority leader when he threatened to throw out the 60 votes and allow judicial nomination to be voted based on a majority vote. And that was similar to what had been proposed by a Republican majority leader in 2005. And I was part of what was called the Gang of 14 -- we're always called gangs in Congress -- and I don't know why that refers to gangs. In any event, there were 7 Democrats and 7 Republicans and it was led by John Warner, the Senator from Virginia and the late Senator Bob Berg from West Virginia, and John McCain was part of it and so 7 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and we reached an agreement that avoided going across the political rubicon. Because when you jettison the traditional rules of the Senate, it really has reverberating consequences. And we decided that we'd allow each of us to decide for ourselves what were the extraordinary measures that would require us to filibuster a judicial nominee, that it had to be extraordinary on the basis on which we would do it. So it was also predicated on trust, that each of us would end up making the right decision on what constituted extraordinary measures, and that allowed us to break the logjam in 2005 and therefore the majority leader did not jettison the 60-vote requirement. In January similarly, the majority leader, the Democrat majority leader proposed jettisoning the 60 votes. He and the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, reached an agreement. It's temporary for this Congress, but they almost hit a snag, as I said earlier, and they finally worked it out. My feeling is if the filibuster has become a problem, I can't get into all the intricacies of what's going on, other than to say it's grown exponentially worse in multiple ways. The filibuster was really designed to -- because the institution says predicated on the majority rule but also in accommodating the rights of minority. The Senate as an institution, is designed as majority rule institution, because it's supposed to work with one another's consensus. But if the filibuster continues to be a huge hindrance, I think that at least one step could be taken is to require live filibusters. Now, the leader doesn't like that because it holds up the business of the Senate. See, when you have a live filibuster then everything stops. If you don't, they'll just move on to another issue, but it never solves the previous question. So I think that that would be a good start in that direction. I think Rand Paul sort of demonstrated that earlier this year with the drone question. But the point is is that it holds up everybody, then it gets everybody's attention, they can't hold up legislation in the shadows by calling up from the airport and saying, "I hold up a bill," because that's what happens now. It's not your traditional filibuster, like Mr. Smith who goes to Washington. It isn't like that anymore, and so if you make it difficult, then it gets everybody's attention.
>> Chris Montgomery: Senator Snowe, we have time for this one last question. Who remains in Senate to carry on your moderate legacy? Thank you.
>> Olympia Snowe: Yes, well, there are a number of people. On my side, my colleague, Senator Collins, of course, great name. They even have the same middle initial, who's also a moderate. On my side, there are people like -- I always hesitate to name who's a moderate, because might giving trouble on our side. I have to keep it a secret every time they vote. But there are people on both sides. You know, for example -- let me give you an example -- when last year there was another gang of 8, they, on the Debt Limit Agreement which was going to reduce the debt over the long term, and I think that was co-chaired by Mark Warner from Virginia, a Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, who is a Republican from Georgia. And it was a great group, and they had agreed on a plan for debt reduction but unfortunately could not get a vote. It looked like it was moving in that direction, which frankly we wouldn't be facing the stalemate today on some of the fiscal issues had it been possible. But they weren't able to get the vote at that very moment in time and cinch it up, and unfortunately, those forces from the outside and groups who oppose whatever issues were involved on either side, ultimately stymied it. But that's a good example of how people can work together, those types of people who are willing to do it. And they're not always categorized. They could be conservatives, they could be liberals. The point is it's those who are amenable to the notion that you have to work on a bipartisan basis. Great things get done being bipartisan. That's the point. It's not about capitulating any principles. It's the method by which you achieve results. I was able in conjunction with Jay Rockefeller, the Senator from West Virginia early on -- we were doing the rewrite of the Telecommunications Act, which unbelievably didn't even accommodate wireless at the time, in 1996 -- but I had this amendment, and Jay had another amendment. I had an amendment to wire all the classrooms in America and libraries. Jay had one on healthcare facilities and to make them interactive in rural areas. And he called me one morning, said "Olympia, why don't we get together and join our amendments?" I said, "Great idea." And my leadership side actually didn't want me to offer any amendments. They didn't want any amendments to these bills, and first major rewrite of the Act since 1932, so they didn't want any amendments. But Jay kept coming over to me and saying, "Is it going to be all right? Are you still willing to do it?" I said, "Don't worry, don't worry." And so we got it done. We passed it -- and there was a lot of obstacles along the way -- and it became law, and wired virtually all the classrooms in America. The point is, that started from one amendment. It just demonstrates what you can accomplish if you're willing to work together. Those were the great ideas that get going, and we have good debates and we have an amendment process. Great ideas flow from that. Sometimes it just spawns a great idea. One time with Paul Simon, I'll speak to this, on student loans -- I was in the Budget Committee and they proposed a cut. They proposed a cut in student loans of $10 billion and I was very much opposed to this. And this was back in my first years in the Senate. And I offered an amendment on the floor to restore the cuts, and I lost. So Paul Simon, who was a liberal Democrat from Illinois, came up to me and said, "Olympia, I think we ought to try again another way." And he said, "I think that we should go for the total amount and restore the entire amount." And I had done a little bit less, that was the point. And I said, "Paul, you don't usually do it that way. If you didn't get the lesser amount, how do you think the amendment to restore the greater amount is going to work?" He said, "Well, let's try it," and we did and it worked, and we restored the cuts in student loans which was the last time student loans were ever cut to that degree. But it just shows you what you can do when you have a normal legislative process and allowing it to flow. It isn't the internal, it's the external. You've got the third party groups are out there that are fueling and they're fueling all of the divide because it's big business now. It's in their financial interest to keep the divisions flowing, because they make money off of it and perpetuate those divisions which I happen to think many of which are false. It's not reflecting the core of America, that's for sure. So all I can tell you is young people, as you're moving forward in this life, I know that Robert Frost once said that "university is a refuge from hasty judgment," but don't let this be your last, because it is important for the future of this country. It's been a privilege and an honor to be here tonight with all of you, and I want to thank you, Dean Collins, again, for inviting me to address this audience and to all of you and to the students and faculty with whom I met. Thank you for the honor and the privilege. Thank you.
>> Dean Susan Collins: Senator Snowe, thank you so much for your remarks this evening. Thank you also for your hard work on these issues that are really critical for our country.