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CBS "60 Minutes" - Transcript

Interview

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Olympia Snowe: We should be individually and collectively embarrassed about our failure.

In March, Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, announced that she would not seek a fourth term, citing frustration with the institution. She is one of the last in a nearly extinct group of Senate moderates who championed compromise. The others have died off, been defeated in party primaries or resigned. Snowe decided she could be more effective as a private citizen than as a U.S. senator.

Olympia Snowe: We weren't solving the big problems. And that's what really stunned me--

Steve Kroft: I think the American public is just baffled as to why the Congress not just the Senate, can't get together and come up with some solutions. Why is it?

Olympia Snowe: You know that's a very good question Steve, if you think about the objective of public service it is to solve problems.

Olympia Snowe: We're not dealing with tax reform. We're not dealing with the debt ceiling crisis. We're not dealing with the automatic cuts. We're not dealing with expiration of the tax rates. I finally said one day, you know, "Is there something else we're doing that I'm not aware of?

Steve Kroft: Was that one of the reasons you left?

Olympia Snowe: It is. I mean, we're talking about issues that are looming on the horizon that threaten our well-being as a nation. That threaten our fiscal wellbeing as a nation.

It's not always been this way. The Senate was once a showcase for American political talent and people like Lyndon Johnson, Ted Kennedy and Howard Baker forged alliances with political opponents to pass landmark legislation.

The partisan battles were always resolved behind closed doors. Olympia Snowe remembers how Bob Dole used to do it when he was majority leader.

Olympia Snowe: He would say go to my office at 8:30 in the morning and work it out. He was so intent on making sure that we came up with a solution to the issue that was before the Senate.

Olympia Snowe: We don't know any longer how to work out differences in the United States Senate. We can't get past our differences.

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