WASHINGTON — Both of Maine’s U.S. senators voted Tuesday for the landmark agreement to cut federal spending and raise the debt ceiling. As expected, the Senate approved the deal by a wide margin, 74-26.

Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday morning that she would vote in favor of the measure, while Sen. Olympia Snowe didn’t reveal her position until she took to the Senate floor to cast her vote in favor of the deal to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling through 2012 in return for $2.4 trillion in planned cuts over 10 years.

While both Republicans voted in favor of the deal, both expressed concern about the impact of some cuts – particularly in defense spending and Medicare services – and about the formation of a 12-member committee that will have the power to offer a package of recommendations for cuts later this year.

The House and Senate can vote on those recommendations only in their entirety, without offering any changes.

Snowe said in a phone interview that the most important factor in her vote was “ultimately the fact that this is a crucial time in our economic history. We had to avoid a default” on U.S. obligations, she said. “We averted a catastrophe for America and all Americans when it comes to interest rates and driving up the costs of borrowing.”

Snowe said it is a sign of a dysfunctional Congress and political system that a compromise had to be cobbled together just before Tuesday’s default deadline. She said the work of the so-called super committee is work that should be done by the House and Senate and in their regular committee process.

Snowe also worries that automatic triggers for across-the-board cuts if Congress doesn’t pass the committee’s recommendations will hit too hard at defense spending and providers of Medicare services, particularly in states with large rural areas like Maine, even though the deal aims to protect Social Security and Medicare benefits.

Snowe also said she believes that tax revenue should be part of the mix when the committee looks at further cuts, noting she has supported repeals of various tax subsidies, such as to ethanol production and major oil companies. On the other hand, she is leery of what the committee can do to pursue reform of the tax code, which is what Snowe said is really needed.

Collins said in a phone interview before the vote that “although the plan is by no means perfect it does represent a step in the right direction. It averts a default, which would be disastrous for our economy and cause interest rates to spike, which would hurt everyone. It puts real controls on spending and makes significant reductions in our long-term debt and protects Social Security.”

Collins said she still has “some serious reservations” about the plan. She does not support the plan’s creation of the so-called super committee.

Collins said she would like Congress to have the ability to amend the work of the committee. She also is concerned that an automatic, across-the-board cut could be triggered if the committee’s work is not approved by the House and Senate.

The automatic cuts would fall disproportionately on defense spending and Medicare providers, particularly providers such as hospitals and nursing homes in rural states like Maine, Collins said.

Still, averting a default was crucial to averting economic catastrophe and giving “job creators” the certainty they need at least in the short run to make business plans and hire new workers, Collins said.

Collins said she believes the super committee can and should look at new tax revenue as part of the $1.5 trillion in savings, something many House Republicans and conservative Senate Republicans have eschewed. Collins questioned why a huge corporation like General Electric pays a lower tax rate than many small corporations in Maine.

 

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