June 19, 2018
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Maine’s delegation frustrated over debt ceiling stalemate

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation say they are increasingly frustrated about the inaction over the debt ceiling debate but also about the partisan squabbling that has accompanied the talks in recent days.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem willing to budge as an ominous deadline looms. If a deal is not reached within a week, the United States could default on some of its loans.

“The time for seeking political advantage is long past over. Washington’s dysfunction and lack of action on this issue will have a very real impact on millions of families and businesses,” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said. “Despite all the unnecessary political posturing, at least the House and Senate have recognized the need to move a plan forward. Unfortunately, they introduced competing plans, rather than working together to come up with a bipartisan solution.”

The two plans now on the table are from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. Although the plans contain some similar elements — deep spending cuts and a temporary raising of the debt ceiling — there are differences.

Boehner’s plan goes a little deeper in asking for spending cuts and also would allow the debt ceiling to be raised in two increments. Reid’s plan relies on reduced military spending for a large portion of cuts and seeks to raise the debt ceiling in one move.

Neither plan is expected to gain enough support in Congress to ensure passage and neither addresses long-term financial concerns.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she is disappointed that President Barack Obama, despite taking to the airwaves Monday night to again call for a compromise, has not come up with his own detailed plan.

“Time is running short. Americans expect their elected leaders to come together and solve problems, and we are facing one of our biggest challenges,” Collins said. “I am hopeful that the President and Congress can agree on a responsible plan that prevents a default, reins in spending, and puts real and reasonable limits on future spending.”

Collins said she had supported the bipartisan “Gang of Six” plan unveiled last week, not because it was perfect but because it was the only plan that compromised on Republican and Democratic goals. That plan is now off the table.

In the wake of dueling speeches Monday by President Obama and Speaker Boehner, congressional leaders said the political bickering has marred what needs to be a bipartisan solution.

Still, when given the opportunity, each side continued to blame the other.

“We’re at the point where people are wondering what to do next week if they don’t get their Social Security or veterans’ benefits,” said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. “Yet, a radical few say that’s OK if it means scoring political points and protecting tax breaks for the country’s wealthiest. I think it’s unthinkable and unfair.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe said the speeches were a distraction.

“What is most regrettable is that this 11th hour back and forth between the president and Congress could have been avoided if talks commensurate with the magnitude and the time required of developing a multitrillion dollar debt reduction plan had begun in January, when it was already understood the debt ceiling deadline was approaching,” she said.

In simple terms, Obama and the Democrats want to combine spending cuts with new revenues. Republicans say revenues just mean new taxes and that’s a nonstarter. Also, Republicans want to make cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare, while Democrats seem unwilling to budge there.

Similarly, Republicans want to vote on a balanced budget amendment, something Snowe called the greatest gift Congress could give future generations, but Democrats have been skeptical.

The backdrop of all this is timing. If Democrats can work to get a deal done that takes them through the 2012 election, it likely would bolster Obama’s re-election chances. If Republicans are successful, Obama would be rendered weak on the economy, opening the door for a GOP challenger with solid financial credentials.

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