Angus King, Susan Collins offer split reactions to first federal budget passed by Senate in 4 years

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in February 2013.
Margaret Williams | Sen. Angus King's office
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in February 2013.
Posted March 23, 2013, at 7:32 p.m.
Last modified March 24, 2013, at 7:23 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s senators said Saturday they’re pleased the U.S. Senate passed a budget for the first time in four years, though one of them voted against the partisan proposal.

In a tight 50-49 vote, the Senate adopted the $3.7 trillion Democratic plan early Saturday morning after a 13-hour voting marathon with 101 amendment considerations.

Independent Sen. Angus King, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, backed the Democratic budget that he had a hand in crafting. He said it was both “reasonable and balanced” and would chip away at the nation’s debts, helping to reduce the projected deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade.

“This was really a great week,” King, who presided over the Senate proceedings from midnight to 2 a.m., said in a phone interview Saturday evening.

King cited Congress’ passage of the March 20 continuing resolution, a deal that restructured funding rules through September, delaying furloughs at some federal facilities and allowing Bath Iron Works to move ahead with construction of warships.

“We did it without a crisis, without a government shutdown,” King said.

The Republican-controlled House passed its own budget proposal 221-207 on March 21. Republicans said their proposal would balance the budget in a decade with substantial cuts in spending and a new Medicare plan for those under age 55. Democrats argued it would hurt entitlement programs and the middle class while providing tax benefits to the wealthy.

King said both the House and Senate versions of the budget “clean up the tax code to generate new revenues,” but he was critical of the fact that the House proposal put revenues toward tax cuts rather than reductions to the national debt.

King backed two major amendments to the Senate proposal. One would make the federal budget process biennial, a system used by many states, including Maine. The other amendment would increase weatherization funding for low-income households.

“All in all, I feel really good about what we’ve done,” King said. “The really good news is the system is working, when it’s been totally locked up for the past five or six years.”

No Republicans, including Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, backed the Democratic Senate’s plan. Four Democrats broke ranks in opposition to the Senate proposal.

“While I do not support this partisan budget, it is nevertheless a hopeful sign that the Senate is having this debate and working to set the priorities for federal spending and revenues for the coming year,” Collins, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Saturday. “I am disappointed that the Senate failed to perform this fundamental task for four consecutive years, but I am pleased we have finally done so.”

Collins said she would have “preferred for the Senate to have approved a bipartisan budget plan that would serve as a true starting point toward the consensus we must build together if we are to overcome our most pressing fiscal challenges.”

The Republican senator stressed the need for the nation to reduce its debts, which have skyrocketed to $16.7 trillion and increase by more than $3 billion per day.

“And with debt comes interest,” she said. “The United States paid $223 billion in interest last year. That’s more each month than we spent in the entire year on Navy shipbuilding or the Coast Guard’s annual budget.”

The final Senate resolution did contain a pair of amendments written by Collins. One would end the freeze on Job Corps enrollment, a program that trains disadvantaged youth for the workforce. The other would correct the new health care law’s definition of “full-time employee” to allow employees to work more than 30 hours per week without triggering penalties on the businesses that employ them.

“As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will now work with my colleagues to begin writing fiscally responsible funding bills that reduce spending in areas that we can no longer afford, while investing in our national priorities,” Collins said.

Now Congress likely will await the president’s budget proposal before members of the Senate and House sit down sometime in April to try to compromise and hash out a bipartisan plan, according to King.

“The president and Democrats in Congress are willing to make difficult choices so we can cut the deficit while laying the foundation for long term middle class job growth,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a press release Saturday. “It is encouraging that both the Senate and House have made progress by passing budgets through regular order.”

Carney criticized the House Republican budget for refusing to “ask for a single dime of deficit reduction from closing tax loopholes for the wealthy,” but instead making “deep cuts to education and manufacturing.”

“Now it is time for our leaders to come together to find common ground,” Carney said.

“The table is set for a deal,” King said. “In this case, the differences are so combative it’s going to be difficult to compromise,” but he said he was confident concessions would be made.

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