Elections matter, whether your name is on the ballot or not.

Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and  Susan Collins did not run for office on Tuesday, but they should pay close attention to what the voters of their state said as Congress reconvenes for a lame duck session this week to head off the looming automatic budget cuts and tax increases called the fiscal cliff.

Failing to act would be disastrous. According to the Congressional Budget Office, going over the fiscal cliff would suck $600 billion out of  an already weak economy in 2013 alone and lead to 1 million job losses over the next two years, pushing  unemployment over 9 percent.

Its important to remember that no one ever thought these forced cuts, along with the expiration of the across the board income and payroll tax reductions would be a good idea for the economy.

They were passed by Congress and the president to create a deadline so terrible it would force the government to act. The deadline is here, and almost everyone agrees that it’s time to do something. The only debate is what should be done.

CLEAR CHOICE

The election presented a choice between two visions for managing the economy, which voters considered to be the most important issue that they faced.

In race after race, Maine voters chose the candidate who supported the idea of a balanced approach to deficit reduction that paired spending cuts with increases in taxes for the wealthiest Americans. In race after race, the same voters rejected the candidates who opposed all tax increases and supported deficit reduction built on spending cuts alone.

So far, Snowe and Collins have supported the agenda that was backed on the campaign trail by Mitt Romney, Charlie Summers, Kevin Raye and Jon Courtney, who were all rejected by Maine voters in their races for president and Congress. The biggest winner of the night, Sen.-elect Angus King, who collected 53 percent of the vote in a six-way race, had a  more nuanced position on taxes that fell between the two visions.

But the primary issue of his campaign was a promise of bridging the differences between with the parties and ending the dysfunction in Washington by reforming Senate rules that stop debate and prevent action.

Looking at these results, there should be no question about where the majority of Maine voters want their senators to be in the upcoming session.

First, Maine people are hurting and they have no appetite for another recession. A budget deal that heads us off the cliff is an absolute must. A long term resolution may be too much to accomplish in a short lame duck session, but a deal that prevents the worst from happening until the new Congress is sworn in should be possible.

Second, they reject the notion that tax increases on the wealthy are off the table. Bringing top marginal tax rates to the level that they were in the 1990s didn’t slow economic growth when Bill Clinton was president and they won’t now.

MANDATE  FOR COMPROMISE

Third, they are looking for compromise. Now is no time for filibuster and obstruction. People want to see the best deal that can be made for the benefit of the country.

This message should go to Maine’s whole congressional delegation. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud both were easily re-elected in the 1st  and 2nd districts campaigning on a balanced approach to deficit reduction that included tax increases on the wealthy. But because of the rules of the House, the two Democrats can do little more than vote their consciences.

Because the Senate rules give the minority an effective veto on legislation, the two Maine Republicans are in an unusual position.

They should, as they have done in the past on issues of national importance, break with their party if necessary and vote for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that heads off the mandatory spending cuts and across-the-board tax increase that would send  us back into recession.

They should back the vision for deficit reduction supported by most Maine voters in the recent election and drop their opposition to tax increases for the highest earners.

And, as they have done in the past on issues of great national importance, they should work across party lines and reach the best deal they can for Maine people.

The election is over, and we hope both parties can put aside the hard feelings that inevitably arise in contests when the stakes are so high. But all sides should pay attention to the results, whether their side won or lost and even whether their name was on the ballot.

Maine’s voters spoke last week, and their message should be clear.