AUGUSTA, Maine — Although the Congressional delegation says vacationing in Maine in August is just wonderful, they all agree they should remain in Washington to do more work.
“Most people I have talked with and heard from in Maine on the debt ceiling have asked why are we not dealing with jobs, helping to create jobs,” said Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe in an interview. “We should not be taking August off; we should be working to create an economic package that will help get this economy going again.”
She said she had met with GOP Senate leadership and other Republican senators and urged them to oppose taking the month off. The Senate is not scheduled to convene until after Labor Day.
“This super commission simply cannot do everything that needs to be done,” Snowe said. “They need to seek help from the regular committees that have the expertise. I think they should ask the Finance Committee to work on tax reform. We have done a lot of work on overhauling the tax code.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said it is “irresponsible” for Congress to take the month off from dealing with the current budget bills, particularly with the additional workload created by the new deficit reduction committee. She said it is unlikely that all of the spending bills will be ready by Oct. 1, resulting in the need for another resolution to keep government operating.
“The House should not have gone home without resolving the [Federal Aviation Agency] authorization bill that is holding up work on airport projects in Maine that need to be done,” she said.
Collins agreed with Snowe that many of the existing permanent congressional committees have the expertise to work on proposals that can help the 12-member debt committee do its job. She plans to work on items under the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Committee during the month and make recommendations to the debt panel.
“We have so much work to do on existing legislation, and with all of this additional work that we should do to help the committee set priorities, we should be in session this month,” Collins said.
She said the Appropriations Committee has only completed work on one of the spending bills, and working during August might allow Congress to pass most, if not all, of the spending bills before the federal government starts its new budget year on Oct.1.
“I think we should stay here for the month of August until we can move forward,” democratic 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud said in an interview. “Even though we are further ahead than the Senate, we still have a long ways to go. Some of the appropriations bills that have passed the House have Draconian cuts in them.”
He said until both the House and Senate adopt spending bills, there can be no conferences to settle differences in spending priorities. He said he has raised the issue of staying in session for at least part of the month, but has received little support.
“There is no shortage of work that could be done and that needs to be done,” Michaud said.
Democratic 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree said while she loves her home on North Haven in Penobscot Bay, she believes Congress has so much work to do, it should not be taking the traditional August recess.
“This has been a very poorly run process,” she said. “We have taken weeks over all the drama over the debt ceiling when we could have been dealing with appropriations bills, handling the budget [and] figuring out how to support more jobs in this terrible economy, and yet we are going home.”
Pingree agreed with Collins that at least the House should have dealt with the FAA bill that affects thousands of furloughed FAA workers and means the loss of an estimated $1.2 billion in airplane ticket tax revenue.
Technically both the House and Senate will be in session during August, but will only have pro forma sessions with no votes or debates. Only a few committees are planning any work during the month.