Members of Congress don’t deserve their paychecks if they fail to decide on time each year how to spend taxpayers’ money, says Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

Michaud backs legislation that would withhold lawmakers’ paychecks if annual budget and spending bills aren’t finished by Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year. Paychecks would stop after Oct. 1 and would not resume until the bills are completed. Members would not get retroactive pay.

Congress often goes weeks into a fiscal year before finishing work on spending bills. That means having to pass a series of temporary measures to tide government over, and butting up against government shutdown deadlines before finally passing a giant catch-all measure.

Michaud says Congress has been late with some spending bills for 15 straight years, and has approved all spending bills by Oct. 1 just four times over the past 36 years. The problem is only growing worse, he said.

“In this era of dysfunction in our nation’s capitol, this bill would at least put pressure on Congress to accomplish its most basic responsibilities,” Michaud said last week in a statement.

Is the bill, introduced Dec. 13 by Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., likely to be approved? It has just five co-sponsors in the House so far, and a Senate version is supported by just five senators. No other Maine lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors.

LAWMAKERS: LIHEAP STILL LAGS

A federal heating assistance program that aids thousands of low-income Mainers is still out in the cold even after last week’s announcement by the Obama administration that it would get additional funding.

The administration initially released $1.7 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an amount that would have earmarked less than $24 million for Maine. The administration released another $845 million Thursday, increasing what Maine receives to about $30 million.

But earlier this month, Congress approved $3.5 billion for LIHEAP, which would give Maine $38.5 million in 2012.

Lawmakers from Maine and other New England states say $3.5 billion is still way too low. They want Congress to come back in January and approve $4.7 billion, the amount the program got in 2011, which gave Maine $56.5 million.

Last winter, 63,802 Maine households with an average income of $16,757 got LIHEAP benefits, an average of $802 each over the heating season. The per-household benefit would average $483 this winter unless funding is increased above $3.5 billion.

The state is working on contingency plans for how to come up with more aid if federal funding isn’t increased.

HOTLINE BETS ON SNOWE TO STAY

The National Journal’s respected Hotline website isn’t offering much holiday cheer to those trying to unseat Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

The Hotline last week ranked Snowe’s U.S. Senate seat 19th of 20 on a list of seats likely to change hands next year, and contends there is little chance Snowe will be defeated in her bid for a fourth term.

“The lack of a real, well-funded challenger from the right makes Snowe a safe bet in the primary. Democrats have two credible contenders duking it out for the nomination, and with it the right to lose to the incumbent,” says the Hotline assessment.

Snowe is being challenged in the GOP primary by two tea party-affiliated candidates, Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell. The two Democrats vying for a Senate nomination are state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland and former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town.

Hinck said in a statement that The Hotline prediction “fails to see what we are finding true on the ground here in Maine. Working families are desperate for a break.”

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

jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC