OLD TOWN, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she was optimistic about the possibility of a pre-election stimulus deal after she talked with lawmakers of both parties on Wednesday as President Donald Trump seemingly reversed his position a day after ending talks.
The Republican senator is facing the most competitive reelection race of her career, having trailed House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in polling all year, though a Bangor Daily News/Digital Research poll earlier this week found Gideon led by just one percentage point.
Federal aid has been a key issue in the Senate race, which also features independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn. Both Collins and Gideon support another relief package and have called for funding for state and local governments and the U.S. Postal Service, among other entities, but negotiations have recently gone nowhere.
Congressional leaders and the White House have been at an impasse about a stimulus bill for more than two months, when expanded unemployment benefits passed as part of a March stimulus expired. Trump said on Tuesday that he had instructed deputies to stop negotiating with Democrats on a relief package until after the election, a move that tanked the stock market and was criticized by Collins as a mistake.
However, he later tweeted support for individual measures including airline relief and another round of small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. The market recovered on Wednesday after he signaled openness to a deal, but many Republicans and Democrats have taken a dim view of the airline provision.
Talking to reporters on Wednesday at Global Secure Shipping in Old Town, Collins said she was “very optimistic” after meeting Wednesday morning with a bipartisan group of more than 50 “rank and file” lawmakers, all of whom agreed to sign a statement in support of getting a stimulus bill done. She said she had also been in touch with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnunchin, Trump’s lead negotiator, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
“It just shows [Trump] that we think it is absolutely critical that we not have further delay, that the negotiators need to come to the table and that we have a certain number of votes that demonstrates support for another Covid package to be done before the election,” she said.
The Maine senator characterized another aid package as a “top priority” and said it should include an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses with significant pandemic revenue losses, aid for schools and childcare, money for state and local governments and funding for testing and for the U.S. Postal Service.
She pointed to a $1.5 trillion bill released by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, in mid-September as a starting point for compromise. The bill is one of several compromise options lawmakers have floated in the last few months, though its path is uncertain as leaders from both parties declined to take it up a few weeks ago, Roll Call reported.
The House passed a $2.2 trillion bill last week, while the Senate attempted a $500 billion bill in September but fell short. Lawmakers have clashed over the size of the package as well as funding for specific programs, such as expanded unemployment.