WASHINGTON – Members of Maine’s congressional delegation said Monday that they hope President Obama will lay out concrete proposals for putting the nation’s economy on firmer ground and avoiding across-the-board spending cuts that are due to take effect next month.
Addressing Congress for the first time in his second term, Obama is expected to hit many of the themes of his re-election campaign, such as investing in infrastructure and renewable energy, protecting the middle class and collecting more taxes from the wealthy. He is also expected to urge congressional action on gun control and immigration reform.
Sen. Susan Collins said she hopes the president will outline a plan for addressing the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt, which the Republican described as “unsustainable” and “the greatest threat to our nation’s economic recovery.”
Key to that will be avoiding the across-the-board “sequestration” cuts due to take effect in March absent an agreement between the White House and Congress, Collins said.
“I would like the president to outline a plan for avoiding the automatic, indiscriminate cuts set to take effect next month that would have devastating consequences for our national security and our economy,” Collins said in a written statement. “Sequestration would cause great harm to America’s safety in a dangerous world and Congress and the president need to set partisanship aside to resolve this issue.”
Attending his first State of the Union speech — sitting next to Collins — will be Sen. Angus King, an independent.
“What I hope to hear is a concrete set of proposals for creating jobs,” King said. “We’ve got a lot of issues around here: deficits and the sequester and all of these other things. But the paramount issue is the economy. And I’m hoping the president will lay out a plan that we can all get behind to get this economy moving.”
King said he would not pre-judge but he hopes that any plan would include a mix of tax reform, infrastructure investment and training initiatives, all within existing resources.
Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree said she, too, expects the economy to be foremost in the president’s address, based on his comments to House Democrats last week.
Pingree also expects to hear the president push for immigration reform, proposals to reduce gun violence and action on climate change — an issue that was largely missing during the president’s first term and the 2012 campaign.
“He made very clear that he’s going to talk about climate change and energy policy, and that is a breath of fresh air,” she said.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority share owner of the Portland Press Herald.
Rep. Mike Michaud’s list of items he would like to hear from the president includes plans for increased funding for the U.S. Economic Development Administration and enforcement of international trade laws.
On the latter, Michaud reiterated concerns that a large financial package offered by the Canadian government to restart a mill in Nova Scotia could affect paper mills in Maine and across the United States.
Michaud, a Democrat, said he would also like to hear the president address the health care needs of veterans.
“My hope is he will really focus on how we can improve not only access to care for veterans but also the backlog of claims,” said Michaud, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Obama is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
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