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comings and goings

Olympia Snowe Penned Washington Post Op-Ed Explaining Her Senate Departure

WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 13:  Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) talks with reporters before the committee is set to vote on health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill October 13, 2009 in Washington, DC. Snowe has not tipped her hand about which way she will vote on the groundbreaking legislation but some believe she may be the only Republican to support the bill.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Olympia Snow Overcast with a chance of liberalism.

Olympia Snowe wrote that she's leaving the Senate, in a nutshell, because of the body's dysfunction. And the three-term Maine Republican doesn't believe the Senate's highly partisan, obstructionist environment will correct itself any time soon.

"I look forward to helping the country raise those voices to support the Senate returning to its deserved status and stature — but from outside the institution," Snowe wrote, echoing the sentiment of her statement that she would not seek another term. She also used the 750-word space to discuss how the current Senate has run afoul of the Founding Fathers' vision with some of its recent debacles:

During the Federal Convention of 1787, James Madison wrote in his Notes of Debates that “the use of the Senate is to consist in its proceedings with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch.” Indeed, the Founding Fathers intended the Senate to serve as an institutional check that ensures all voices are heard and considered, because while our constitutional democracy is premised on majority rule, it is also grounded in a commitment to minority rights.

Yet more than 200 years later, the greatest deliberative body in human history is not living up to its billing. The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body’s failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals. We witnessed this again in December with votes on two separate proposals for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

The American people are likewise disillusioned, frustrated and disappointed. According to Real Clear Politics' polling data on Congressional job approval, only 11.3 percent of respondents approve against 82.5 percent that disapprove.

The implications of Snowe's departure remain significant. New York's Jonathan Chait discussed how her exit might save liberalism, most immediately because her Senate seat may get picked up by a Democrat from left-leaning Maine.

Snowe didn't say whether she would be joining third-party group American Elect, as many — including us — have speculated, but she made it clear that she's not going to retire to lobster fishing in Kennebunkport, either.

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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images