Delegation girds for budget battles

Posted Sept. 05, 2011, at 1:05 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 05, 2011, at 2:12 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of Maine’s Congressional delegation agree this month will be very difficult with a new panel looking at making spending cuts to reduce the federal deficit, and at the same time Congress is supposed to complete budgets for federal agencies by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

“We have been given absolutely no guidance whatsoever as far as the target, the amount of savings we are supposed to produce,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said. “And we have to finish the work on all of the budget bills for the new budget year, or fashion a continuing resolution, all while the deficit panel is working.”

Collins is a member of the Appropriations Committee that works on the overall spending bills, and also is the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. She said in additional to working on the measures to fund the new budget year, the deficit panel has asked the chairs and ranking members of the various committees to prepare a list of cuts they would propose.

“You really can’t set priorities when you don’t know what the target is,” she said. “I am very concerned about how this will work.”

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said he believes the attempt may end in budgetary disaster. He said the 12 members named to the deficit “super” committee are all very strong willed and he’s not sure they will be able to agree on a proposal to send to the full Congress.

“If they do not, then you will see severe cuts across the board in the Department of Defense and in discretionary spending,” he said.

Michaud said passing the budget or a continuing resolution is the first job for Congress, but the “uncharted waters” of a deficit committee working at the same time could result in a serious disruption of spending for ongoing programs. He doubts a new budget will be passed, and that a continuing resolution will be adopted.

“We saw it last time around, we had agencies with grant money ready to go and people they were about to hire, but they held off waiting to see what Congress would pass for a budget,” he said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Congress has made a bad situation worse by not having passed a budget for next year before tackling deficit reduction. She doubts a budget will be passed by the end of the month and expects another continuing resolution to fund government.

“It has been a travesty that Congress has been unable or unwilling to act on budget bills for the last two years,” she said. “It will make a very difficult process with the super committee all the more difficult.”

Snowe said leadership in both parties were wrong to continue with business as usual and take all of the month of August off instead of immediately starting the process of reducing the deficit and passing a budget for next year.

“This is a continuation of the lack of leadership that led to the budget deficit we are now facing,” she said.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said it will be very difficult for work on the yearly budget and deficit reduction to go on at the same time. She doubts a budget will be adopted and that a continuing resolution will pass to allow government to operate until January, after the deadline for deficit reduction legislation.

“The truth is, if we are going to do serious deficit reduction we have to get in to looking at defense cuts,“ she said. “I think that we have to look at revenue enhancement, we have to make millionaires pay their fair share and corporations pay taxes again.”

Pingree said she shares the concern that the super committee members will not agree and that across the board cuts will be made. She said Congress should do its job and set the priorities for spending.

All four stressed the need for the deficit reduction process to be open and transparent. Both Snowe and Collins are co-sponsoring legislation that would require meetings to be held in a hearing room where they can be televised and that all of the negotiations be in public.

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