Maine delegation lauds president’s ambitious goals

Posted Feb. 24, 2009, at 11:37 p.m.

WASHINGTON — During a speech in which Republican senators often remained seated while Democrats applauded, Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe stood up when President Obama referred to the passage of a $787 billion stimulus package. They and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., were the only GOP senators to vote for the bill when it passed the Senate.

After the president’s speech Tuesday night, Snowe released a statement lauding Obama’s “aggressive and ambitious agenda,” saying bipartisan cooperation will prove even more important now given the challenges facing the nation.

Snowe singled out Obama’s plan to reform the American health care system, the details of which the president said he would outline as soon as next week, as a good idea to address a “mounting crisis” affecting more than 47 million uninsured Americans.

The senior Republican on the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Snowe called health care the biggest burden faced by business owners. She added, however, that the president would need not only her support but the help of her Republican colleagues to pass broader legislation on health care.

“Every major legislative initiative, from Medicare to civil rights to clean air, has enjoyed strong support from both parties because representatives from both sides of the aisle were at the conference table,” she said.

Collins said she looked forward to reading the details of Obama’s budget proposal, which is slated to be officially released Friday.

“I am pleased that the president tonight focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency as ways to reduce our dangerous dependence on Middle East oil,” Collins said in a statement. “As the president emphasized, the plan should promote conservation, spur development of alternative energy sources and expand production of American energy.”

Obama gained loud applause from both parties when he promised to cut the budget deficit in half by the end of his term, though some Republicans stopped clapping when he added that the deficit was “inherited.”

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said he supported the president’s plans to reform the nation’s health care and education systems but added, “They are lofty goals that will require tough budget choices.

“Both our fiscal crisis and our economic crisis are interrelated,” he said. “We cannot move forward with one without addressing the other.”

Michaud also praised Obama’s decision to count costs relating to the war in Iraq and other domestic programs as part of the federal deficit. During the past administration, these expenses were not counted as part of the general budget, making the gap seem smaller than it really is.

“The true costs of programs were hidden through gimmicks,” Michaud said. “These unsustainable actions have helped to create the fiscal crisis we find ourselves in today.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, also praised Obama for pushing through the stimulus package, estimating it will eventually create about 15,000 jobs in Maine.

“President Obama is doing all the right things — he is reaching out across the aisle and he has shown a willingness to compromise. But most importantly he has put together a comprehensive plan that can get our economy back on track,” Pingree said.

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