AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s congressional delegation wants Congress to act this year to reduce the federal budget deficit, but there is pessimism that it will occur in an increasingly partisan election year atmosphere.
“Whether something can happen this year remains to be seen,” said Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe in an interview. “But, when we are not going to even have a budget resolution, I don’t know what the foundation would be to build a deficit reduction package.”
She was sharply critical of Senate Democratic leadership for announcing earlier this month that the Senate will not consider the passage of a budget resolution that sets a spending limit for the next budget year. She said the extension of the payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits last week was not fully paid for and added to the deficit.
“And the president’s proposed budget would increase the deficit,” Snowe said. She said despite her pessimism that a significant reduction plan can be worked out this year, the attempt should be made.
“We cannot continue to have the deficit continue to increase as it has been increasing,” she said, “we should tackle tax reform and regulatory reform and reduce the deficit.”
Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins agrees with Snowe that not having a budget resolution to use as a platform for spending reductions makes it very difficult to achieve significant deficit reduction. She said President Barack Obama’s budget is not helpful because it increases overall spending and adds to the more than $15 trillion deficit.
“It is very difficult to tackle serious deficit reduction without a budget resolution that puts a firm cap on the various categories of spending,” Collins said.
She is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and said without an overall budget plan, there will be spending decisions made without understanding the impact the individual votes will have on the overall deficit.
“It is exacerbated by the fact the president essentially punted on this issue in his budget,” she said, “His budget calls for increased spending, increased taxes and an increase in the deficit of $1.33 trillion.”
Even though what has happened so far this year is discouraging, Collins said Congress should not give up on efforts to address the deficit.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree believes the threat of across-the-board cuts through the sequestration process will eventually move Congress to address the deficit. She said such cuts are a “meat axe approach” that simply will cut programs by a certain percentage with no assessment of whether the programs are doing the job they were designed to do.
“The challenge will be how do we figure out a way to agree on them without the sequestered cuts coming in all on their own,” she said. “That, in a Congress that does not have a very good track record of working very well together.”
Pingree said there will have to be defense cuts to achieve a significant reduction in the deficit. She said those need to be done carefully and not across the board. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
“There is going to have to be a lot of compromising,” she said. “That is going to be hard with everyone focused on the presidential election.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said it is unfortunate the supercommittee failed last year in their efforts to identify ways to reduce the deficit that were targeted. He said the across-the-board cuts that will kick in next fall as a result of that failure are unacceptable because they are not targeted.
“There will be some on the Republican side that will try to exempt defense,” he said. “There are areas in defense that we can target and should target for reductions. I think we should further look at overseas bases and reduce our footprint around the world.”
Michaud said while he hopes Congress will reach a compromise plan to reduce the deficit, he has seen little indication of that happening.
“There has been a lot of discussion about how we should lower our debt,” he said, “but I have not seen the efforts to actually come up with a plan to do it.”
It’s likely that if any debt reductions are made it will be done piecemeal as spending resolutions are considered later in the year. Collins said the closer to the fall election, the less likely significant action will be taken and that short-term spending measures will substitute for the usual spending bills.