Good morning from Augusta. There are 71 days until Election Day.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Until we have a widely adopted vaccine and this virus is behind us, we’ll continue to see a lot of ‘for lease’ signs on Congress Street and elsewhere,” Justin Lamontagne, partner and broker at NAI The Dunham Group in Portland, said of vacant storefronts in downtown Portland. “I think retailers will come back and certainly restaurants, but in the short term it’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
House Democrats passed a stand-alone bill to fund the embattled U.S. Postal Service this weekend, but whether Senate Republicans will get on board remains to be seen. Mainers have seen medication, bills and checks delayed in recent months as the agency has struggled with delays due to cost-cutting measures under a new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy.
DeJoy acknowledged the delays while testifying in front of a Senate panel Friday. Documents released by House Democrats over the weekend showed a decline in the share of mail delivered on time beginning in early July. The postmaster general is set to testify before a House committee today as well.
All of Maine’s major political figures support expanded funding for the Postal Service. U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District both voted for the House bill over the weekend, which would provide $25 billion in emergency funding for the agency. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, has co-sponsored a companion bill in the Senate.
The issue has also become contentious in Maine’s U.S. Senate race, with Collins’ opponents criticizing her over her sponsorship of a 2006 bill that required the postal service to pre-fund health benefits. The bill was partially — though not entirely — responsible for the agency’s financial struggles, and key Democrats signed onto it, too.
With the Republican National Convention kicking off tonight, don’t expect the Senate to vote on Collins’ bill this week. But the uproar over the Postal Service is likely to continue amid delays and concerns about mail-in or absentee voting for the November election.
The Maine politics top 3
— “European Union to eliminate tariffs on American lobsters,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The United States and the European Union have reached an agreement to eliminate tariffs on American lobster, federal officials announced Friday, which could boost exports for Maine’s industry hit hard by trade wars and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.”
— “Opponents will still try to kill CMP corridor after court nixes referendum,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The utility and partners are confident the $1 billion project that would bring Hydro-Quebec power to the regional grid through western Maine will move forward. Opponents’ efforts may run into similar problems as the referendum did. The Legislature has rebuffed roadblocks to the project. CMP’s increasing investment could also throw a wrench in plans to stall the line.”
— “Maine will apply for federal program to boost unemployment benefits,” Piper: “The Maine Department of Labor said Friday that it anticipates taking about three weeks to set up the program. Once Maine receives funding, benefits would be paid retroactively starting with the week when previous federal benefits expired. Individuals do not need to apply separately for the benefits.”
What we can expect from Maine during the GOP convention
The convention begins today on the heels of the president highlighting two of the state’s key industries. A lobsterman will be the only Mainer with a speaking slot at the convention (with apologies to UFC President Dana White, a Hermon High School graduate who grew up in Connecticut and has a home here). Lobsterman Jason Joyce’s appearance may be brief, but it is an example of President Donald Trump’s fixation on the industry.
He has held it up as an example of businesses hampered by trade policies and regulations. Trump has taken some action to address those issues, although the meaningfulness of opening an Atlantic monument to fishing and federal aid remains to be seen.
Don’t be surprised if Bath Iron Works gets a shout-out, too. The just-ended strike is one of the longest in the shipyard’s history, and Trump has tried to position himself as a key player in ending that dispute. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, has praised the workers. Both industries are iconic to the 2nd Congressional District, which Trump won in 2016 and would like to win again, though he has been tied with Biden there in recent polls.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.