Stimulus funds, jobless rate focus of 2nd District debate

Posted Oct. 27, 2010, at 9:20 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Republican Jason Levesque dueled for the last time before Election Day in a 25-minute televised debate on Wednesday that had the Auburn challenger attacking Michaud’s voting record and Michaud painting himself as an able fighter for Maine in Congress.

Televised live at 7 p.m. over WCSH-TV Channel 6 in Portland and WLBZ-TV Channel 2 in Bangor, the fast-paced contest featured Levesque trying to link Michaud votes to the state’s sagging economy and Michaud staking much of his re-election bid on his service to veterans and the elderly.

Michaud, whom polls showed leading Levesque 49 percent to 30 percent among 2nd Congressional District voters, suggested Levesque sought to privatize Social Security, which Levesque denied.

Levesque blamed Michaud and failed Democratic policies for the recent creation of new paper mills in three other states despite Maine’s abundant forest products industry resources.

The sharpest exchange might have come when Levesque reiterated Michaud’s vote for the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009, linking it to the state’s 7.7 percent unemployment rate and the nation’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate and the $2 trillion increase in the federal debt this year.

“This money has not been put to good use,” Levesque said, adding that the stimulus creates a “cloud of uncertainty” and that Michaud should have ensured that more of it was spent on national infrastructure improvements. He reminded Michaud that stimulus promoters promised that the unemployment rate would not rise above 8 percent.

“Has the stimulus failed? Yes,” Levesque said.

Both agreed that the stimulus should have allocated more funding to infrastructure improvements. But the stimulus package, Michaud said, gave tax breaks to 99 percent of all Mainers and created vast expansions in needed items such as broadband Internet access while paying for 48 infrastructure and capital projects totaling $80 million in Maine.

It directly created 1,150 new jobs while sustaining or indirectly creating 14,400 jobs in Maine in total, he said. Michaud said he proposed in a bill earlier this year that the unspent stimulus money be dedicated entirely to transportation projects.

“We have unique needs in this state not represented by either party,” Michaud said. He said he should go back to Congress “so I can fight for the issues that are important to me.”

As reasons for his re-election he cited his efforts to create an east-west interstate highway, permanently allow trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds on federal roads north of Augusta, and the need for improved railroad service and health care market rates on par with those in the Boston area.

Levesque said voters should send him to Washington, D.C., to send “a message to the career politicians that enough is enough. We need a bold, new direction.”

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