WASHINGTON — Maine’s Democratic House members split their votes on a landmark agreement to cut spending and raise the debt ceiling that cleared the House on Monday night and now is headed for a Senate vote.

Reps. Mike Michaud, 2nd District, and Chellie Pingree, 1st District, had not said how they planned to vote on the deal that would raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling in return for $2.4 trillion in planned spending cuts over a decade.

Michaud voted yes, saying that it was an imperfect bipartisan compromise. Pingree voted no, saying that, “I am just seriously worried about the state of our economy and what some of these cuts are likely to do in a very fragile time.”

Meanwhile, Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine were still not saying Monday night how they would vote when the bill reaches the Senate – a vote is expected today.

Collins said Monday that she was still looking at the details, but expressed concerns about some potential cuts down the road.

“I am pleased that the agreement reins in spending and puts real budget caps on future spending,” Collins said. “But I do have some concerns about what would happen if the special committee that’s created does not report savings that meet the target,” triggering automatic across-the-board cuts.

If that happens, “there could be deep cuts in the Medicare program for providers such as rural hospitals, home health care agencies, physicians, and other health care professionals,” Collins said. “I am also very concerned that there could also be deep cuts in defense.”

The deal is expected to pass the Senate by a wide margin with or without the Maine Republicans’ votes and quickly be signed into law by President Obama just ahead of today’s default deadline.

Michaud said that, “While this bill isn’t perfect, it’s a bipartisan compromise that will avoid default, which would have severely impacted the lives of every American. Our seniors will now receive their Social Security checks. Our service members will get paid and avoid putting their families through unneeded financial hardship. Veterans’ benefits will not be threatened.”

Michaud said it was important that the bill raises the debt ceiling by enough to avoid yet another standoff in a few months, and that it protects the level of Social Security and Medicare benefits. Michaud said he joins “Mainers in being disgusted in the process. But at the end of the day, I believe this bill makes some important progress that will improve the fiscal stability of our nation.”

Citing an issue that Democrats and Republicans already disagree on, Michaud said that the special bipartisan committee charged with coming up with more spending cuts later this year can consider raising more tax revenue. Republicans have said that is off the table.

“Interest rates won’t skyrocket on home and car loans,” Michaud said. “This promotes economic stability, which impacts the investments and retirement savings of millions of Americans.”

But the bill’s “deficit reduction committee will put tax reform on the table, something that previous proposals rejected,” Michaud said. “And as a result of the deficit reduction goals contained in the bill, it will be very difficult to extend the irresponsible and unaffordable Bush tax breaks for the wealthy.”

Pingree said she agrees with Michaud that the bill offers stronger protections for maintaining Social Security and Medicare benefits than previous debt ceiling bills favored by House Republicans. She noted that she also voted in favor of a compromise debt ceiling agreement offered a few days ago by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., which passed the Democratic-led Senate but failed in the Republican-led House.

“I just felt like (the current) plan went too far,” Pingree said. “It certainly has the potential for harming Medicare in the long run. I didn’t like the process. I didn’t like the deep cuts that are going to be made without asking for any support from big corporations or millionaires or any kind of (new tax) revenue in the plan.

“I just felt that in the long run that this would be very bad for our economy and take away the fabric of the safety net, the things that help our most vulnerable citizens.”

 

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected]