As the $789 economic stimulus plan is being signed today by President Barack Obama in Denver, two women deserve much of the credit. Without the leadership of Maine Senator Susan Collins and her colleague Senator Olympia Snowe, there would be no signing ceremony today.
The two Republican women, joined by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, were the three lonely Republicans who forged a compromise bill. It was Senator Collins who took the lead in stepping across the aisle to talk to Democrats, something considered unseemly by her Republican friends.
"It was very hard," she told the New York Times. "These are my friends. I work with them every day. I believe I have done the right thing, but there is a cost, there is a definite cost."
Why were these two women willing to pay a cost that all but one of their male colleagues refused? Could it be that they are less afraid of the words "compromise," and "bi-partisanship," than the guys they work with? Is it something about the state of Maine, which has elected both Republicans and Democrats in its history?
Or do they have their ear to the ground more closely than the Republicans who voted in lock-step against the stimulus bill? They know that the people of Maine are hurting in this depressed economy, but so are people in every state of the country, including the bright red states.
Or—could it have something to do with the fact that they are women?
While the rest of the Congress saw the stimulus as a chance to fight a battle against the new President, these women used this opportunity to create a solution. They were less interested in winning a partisan fight and more interested in coming up with results.
Senator Collins observed, "This crisis is extraordinary, and my constituents don't expect me to stay on the sidelines. They expect me to jump in. People don't want us to be the party that says no, just no."
People often speculate whether women elected to office make a difference based on their gender. Are they less likely to go for the jugular; are they more likely to seek solutions? What we witnessed with the economic stimulus plan does not meet the requirements of a study which would give us the answers. But it is a stunning example of what a couple of women can accomplish when they forget party labels and do the hard work of crafting legislation—which by its nature demands compromise.
Think of what the Congress might accomplish if we had a few more women like them on both sides of the aisle.
This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.