Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, walks from a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Washington. Credit: Alex Brandon / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The Bangor Daily News is hosting a free virtual forum on Question 1, the anti-corridor referendum on the Nov. 2 ballot, tonight at 6 p.m. Sign up here

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The old saying goes ‘where you sit is where you stand,’” said Sen. Angus King, who is proposing the U.S. State Department add an assistant secretary for Arctic affairs, “and not having a formal seat at the diplomatic table with a Senate-confirmed official means we have less standing in the region.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The Maine senator’s agreement with fellow Republicans casts further doubt on a second bipartisan debt-ceiling deal by year’s end. A bipartisan deal negotiated between Senate Democrats and Republican leaders in the upper chamber to raise the national debt limit into December passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday and is on its way to President Joe Biden. But that may be the last deal with the parties in a standoff over a long-term hike.

Democrats have narrow control of Congress and are struggling to come to their own accord on a massive spending bill that Biden has pegged at $3.5 trillion but will likely be $2 trillion or less assuming moderate Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia get on board. That debate has held up a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure deal. 

As that happens, Republicans opposed to spending on top of that want to force Democrats to raise the debt limit alone, which they can do under the party-line reconciliation process but are resisting by noting a hike will largely be used to pay for past spending after the administrations of Biden and President Donald Trump doled out trillions in COVID-19 aid.

The minority party is united on this. Centrist Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, backed the short-term deal citing the immediate risk of default but has been aligned with her party on the limit, telling Business Insider last week that Republicans would back an increase if Democrats abandoned their large spending plan. (That is a non-starter for Democrats, of course.)

On a visit to Houlton on Tuesday, Collins said it was Democrats’ desire to suspend and not raise the ceiling that was a main subject of Republican opposition. While suspending the limit has been common (Congress did it three times under Trump), she said the stakes are higher with Democrats proposing spending and tax increases and a suspension would be a “blank check.”

“There’s plenty of time now for the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling,” she said.

The Maine politics top 3

— “New England will need more clean power even if the CMP corridor is built,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “But the project has broader consequences for the rest of New England, as well as in neighboring Quebec. In the short-run, the success or failure of the corridor is “very significant” for Massachusetts, which needs the power to meet its aggressive low-carbon energy goals, said Paul Hibbard, an energy consultant and former chair of the public utilities department there.”

— “Janet Mills rejects GOP call to ease vaccine mandate after Lewiston hospital reduces admissions,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “For now, patients who arrive at [Central Maine Medical Center’s] emergency room will be screened and stabilized before possibly being transferred to another hospital. The trauma diversion status would be reviewed every 24 hours, while the halting of pediatric care will continue until further notice. Heart attack patients were admitted again on Tuesday. It will also be closing its neonatal intensive care unit at the end of the month due to resignations of key workers.”

A top legislative Democrat signaled a possible break with the administration. The Democratic governor hammered legislative Republicans in a statement, but the Lewiston situation has led a bipartisan group of area lawmakers from the area to add a testing alternative to the state mandate, including Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, a retired physician who once ran CMMC’s family medicine program. He has been talking with Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, on the issue and a Jackson spokesperson teased action by the leader in the coming days. It’s something to watch moving forward.

— “Maine is spending rent relief money faster than most states. It’s not enough,” Lia Russell, BDN: “MaineHousing had approved about $68.8 million in rent relief for more than 12,000 households as of late September, according to a Sept. 29 report from the agency. That works out to about 34 percent of the $200 million package, though MaineHousing has been using money from both rent congressional relief packages.”

Conservative group tests new budget-bill message in CD2

A national conservative group is out with new ads in Maine’s 2nd District highlighting Democrats’ proposed reconciliation package. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who is one of national Republicans’ top targets next year, is not currently supporting the bill, saying last week that he would like to see changes including better targeting certain spending. But the American Action Network, which has been the leading Republican spender in the district so far this year, still attempts to link Golden to the bill in its latest ad

It also evokes the images of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. It frames the bill as a tax hike for “working people” while slamming proposed tax breaks for “the media” (the original bill includes a tax credit for local news organizations with fewer than 750 employees, which would include the BDN) and “fancy cars with Chinese parts,” a reference to tax credits for electric vehicle purchases.

Of course, it is not clear which tax provisions will make it into the final bill, as Democrats are making cuts. Golden notably called out the electric vehicle tax credit in a Portland Press Herald op-ed last week as something that he thought needed to be more targeted. But it highlights how Republicans, who have already spent more than $1 million in Maine’s 2nd District ahead of the 2022 race, are looking to change the narrative about the bill as Democrats struggle to pass it.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper, Michael Shepherd and Alexander MacDougall. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...