December 15, 2018
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Government officials in Maine brace for federal shutdown

Troy R. Bennett, Gabor Degre and Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Troy R. Bennett, Gabor Degre and Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Clockwise from top left, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, U.S. Sen. Angus King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

The federal government shutdown at midnight Friday after Congress failed to advance a spending bill.

Officials at some federal agencies in Maine said they await more clarity about the impact of a shutdown. Ryan Lilly, director of the Maine VA Healthcare System, located at Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta, said he does not expect immediate repercussions from a shutdown because the Veterans Administration received an advance appropriation last year that includes funding through October of this year.

However, Lilly said the possibility of an extended shutdown does throw the future into uncertainty, particularly the fate of a supplemental budget bill from President Donald Trump that includes a range of funding reductions, including $15.2 billion from the Veterans Administration.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Lilly.

Jon Chapman, assistant U.S. attorney for the district of Maine, said a majority of the Department of Justice’s many components are protected from a shutdown because they are involved with important functions such as national security and criminal justice responsibilities.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage said the governor was monitoring the situation and might issue a statement later Friday if the shutdown appears imminent. In 2013, state government laid off 56 employees in its disability determination system whose salaries were federally funded in 2013.

LePage had not issued a statement by early Saturday morning.

The fight over the budget is mainly over protections for young immigrants. Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, support a bipartisan bill to would address immigration, including so-called “Dreamers,” who are undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The bill they back would give Dreamers a path to citizenship, put $2.5 billion toward border security and replace a lottery-based immigration program with a merit-based one. But it’s too dovish for many Republicans. Democrats want to see a long-term solution in any budget deal.

President Donald Trump is supporting the bill passed by House Republicans on Thursday, which included long-term funding for the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program. Collins told reporters on Thursday that she would “reluctantly” support the bill to keep the government open.

Senate Democrats are withholding their votes and King said on CNN’s “New Day” that he opposes the bill, calling continuing resolutions “a terrible way to try and govern.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from the 2nd District, voted for the House bill and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, opposed it.

The most notable effect in Maine of the last federal government shutdown in 2013 may have been the closure of Acadia National Park. It’s unclear what would happen this time. An Acadia spokeswoman said Thursday that parks will “remain as accessible as possible,” but rangers and patrols will likely be reduced.

Here’s a list of services that were open and closed then, though it could be different this time.

For a roundup of Maine political news, click here for the Daily Brief. Click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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