LEWISTON, Maine — Maine Republicans, Democrats and independents running for seats in Congress on Thursday seemed to be mostly in agreement on at least one thing.
The federal government should have to balance its budget, the same way many states do.
Of the three candidates running for the U.S. House in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District and two on the ballot for the U.S. Senate, all but one said they support passing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Unlike most states, the federal government does not have to annually balance its budget to keep government open. The federal budget for the current fiscal year is projected to be about $500 billion in the red.
To pass a balanced budget amendment 38 of the 50 states would have to ratify the change once Congress passes a bill to make the change. If passed, the amendment would be the 28th to the U.S. Constitution.
Shenna Bellows, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, called the long-term inability of Congress to keep a balanced budget one of the biggest problems in Washington. But Bellows was the only candidate to stop short of saying voters should force the hand of Congress when it comes to balancing the federal budget.
“The status quo isn’t working because politicians, including my opponent, Republican Susan Collins, promised to balance the budget and then spent more than $2 trillion on two wars we couldn’t afford even as they cut veterans’ benefits,” Bellows said. “We don’t need to amend the Constitution to tell Congress to do its job. We need to stop spending so much money on the wrong priorities and start investing in jobs, infrastructure and education to help the economy grow.”
Collins has been a steadfast supporter of pushing through a balanced budget amendment. She first voted for it in a bill she co-sponsored her first year in the U.S. Senate in 1997, according to her campaign staff.
Lance Dutson, a spokesman for Collins’ re-election campaign, said he wasn’t surprised Bellows wasn’t fully supportive of a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
“I’m not surprised that Shenna opposes the balanced budget amendment,” Dutson said. “She’s been quick to promise new spending without regard for the real-world implications of growing our nation’s debt.”
Collins supports the amendment because, ” … it is a step toward ending Washington’s dangerous cycle of spending beyond our means,” Dutson said. “America’s mounting debt makes it harder for small businesses and entrepreneurs to create jobs. It is one of the biggest challenges facing our nation and needs to be a priority.”
Bruce Poliquin, the Republican candidate running for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Democrat Mike Michaud, who is running for governor, said he has long been a supporter of a balanced budget for the federal government.
Poliquin, a former state treasurer, said, “The bottom line is that if America gets its fiscal house in order, balances its budget on an annual basis, starts a credible plan to pay off our debt, which will allow us to lower taxes, and we start to reduce the price of energy by starting to fully develop our natural gas and oil resources and we fix the health care mess, we will have so much investment in this country.”
Poliquin said those changes, which start with a requirement that the federal government balance its budget, would lead to a “booming economy, which would be great for all of our families and our young adults, but it starts with our fiscal situation. We’ve got to stop spending more than we can take in, and Washington has proven it cannot do that without help.”
He said a constitutional amendment is “an institutional tool” that is “precisely the way to go.”
Emily Cain, the Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, also said she supports a balanced budget amendment.
Cain, a state senator from Orono, said Congress should aspire to be more like Maine. Cain has served on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee. She said the structure of Maine’s Constitution, which requires a balanced budget, forces bipartisan negotiations and compromise.
“Balanced budgets can only work when both sides come to the table in good faith to find reasonable solutions that help the American people,” Cain said. “I support a balanced budget amendment that would bring our nation in line with Maine. For the past decade, I have worked on and voted for 24 bipartisan, balanced budgets — getting the best results when both sides come to the table and negotiate in good faith.”
The independent in the 2nd District race, Blaine Richardson of Belfast, said he fully supports a balanced budget amendment.
Richardson said Thursday he doesn’t believe Congress would ever agree to one, however badly it’s needed. He agreed it would be the only way to get the federal budget balanced.
“But they can’t even agree on a budget that has neutral spending,” Richardson said.
He said the size of the U.S. debt was so large that people can’t even understand it.
The federal debt, caused by years of deficit spending, is estimated to be $17.6 trillion.
“There’s nothing you can look at as a human being and understand, ‘Oh, yeah that’s a billion,’ let alone a trillion,” Richardson said. “You start to get into Muppet language.”
Richardson said voters are to blame because they continually send to Congress people who lose the mindset and understanding “that when the checkbook’s empty, the checkbook is empty.”
He said if he were elected to serve in Washington, “The favorite word in my lexicon is going to be, ‘No.’ Pork is pork is pork and it’s just not right.”