AUGUSTA, Maine — With Senate approval of the House’s narrowly approved $154 billion stimulus bill unlikely, members of Maine’s congressional delegation say some additional measures to help the economy recover are likely to be adopted.
House Democrats succeeded in passing the second stimulus package before Christmas break, but it faces an uphill battle in the Senate. Still, some safety net programs will need to be shored up, according to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
“We are going to have to take some action to extend some of the countercyclical safety net programs that are essential to those who are really struggling,” Collins said. “But I am skeptical about going far beyond that.”
Just before Christmas, Congress once again extended unemployment benefits through the end of this month. Collins said that is the sort of additional spending she would support, but is worried whether it is prudent to further increase the deficit for additional infrastructure projects.
“I know they are saying those projects in the House-passed bill would use TARP [Troubled Assets Relief Program] money,” she said, “but the president has already used some of that money to further bail out [General Motors Acceptance Corp.] and you can’t use that TARP money twice.”
Collins said there is bipartisan support in the Senate to apply any unused TARP money, or any paid back to the federal government, to lower the deficit. She said that with the record budget deficit, a growing number of senators will want any further spending paid for with cuts or repeal of some tax breaks.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said that with the recession continuing, Congress should extend unemployment assistance again and provide budget stabilization aid to the states. She said failure to continue help to the states would undermine the stimulus efforts under way as a result of the Recovery Act passed a year ago.
“It would be counterproductive if the states are raising taxes and laying off workers while the Recovery Act is getting people back to work,” she said.
Snowe said she is pleased with President Barack Obama’s focus on providing greater assistance to small businesses as part of helping with recovering from the recession. She said there is broad agreement among economists that small businesses are the job creators that will fuel the recovery.
“We need to target very specifically the amount of money that we have already earmarked for stimulus purposes to make sure it is being used to the maximum,” Snowe said.
She said that with hundreds of billions yet to be spent from last year’s Recovery Act, Congress should redirect some of it to specific programs that will be effective in helping with the recovery such as those targeted to small businesses.
First District Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, defended the House-passed stimulus bill and said it was targeted at creating jobs and helping small businesses and would help the nation recover.
“This bill is fully paid for with the TARP money,” she said, “and we think this is a good way to pay for what we need to do now until our economy gets going to a better place than it is now.”
Pingree said the House bill provides continued assistance to the states and additional funding for various infrastructure projects.
The measure would pump more than $35 billion into highways and mass transit, as well as $2 billion for clean water projects and $2 billion for the building and repair of housing. The bill also includes $23 billion to help states save or create an estimated 250,000 education jobs over the next two years and would fund 5,000 police officers. It also contains about $2 billion for other hiring and training programs, including youth summer jobs and training in growth industries, such as health care and clean energy.
Second District Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said it is unlikely the House bill will be accepted by the Senate. He said it’s important that the House and Senate work on a compromise that not only keeps safety net programs, but also helps further “jump-start” the economy.
“It is very important that whatever comes out of the conference is fully paid for,” he said. “We should also be looking at other steps we can take to help the economy that do not have a cost to the treasury.”
Michaud said legislation is under consideration that would allow greater business loans from credit unions. He said the banking lobby is opposing the legislation, even though they are not providing the credit needed by companies. Michaud said its passage would help the economy rebuild.
“If the banks are not going to give them access to capital, and the credit unions have that capital available to loan businesses, then they should be able to make those loans,” Michaud said.
While there has been a lot of discussion about a second stimulus or jobs bill, Senate leaders have not set a schedule to consider such legislation even with President Obama unveiling some of his proposals last week.