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Monday July 11, 2011 | 03:54 PM

It was hard for Sen. Susan Collins, a self-proclaimed “foodie,” to be too unhappy while sampling Maine wares at the Fancy Food Show convention in Washington Monday afternoon. But the breakdown over the weekend of the debt ceiling negotiations seems to have left a sour taste with the Maine Republican.

“I am very worried because I really felt…that we were on the verge of a major agreement that would make a real difference, and to have a collapse so utterly is so unfortunate,” Collins said in an interview at the convention in downtown D.C. not far from Capitol Hill.

Collins is not directly involved in the talks that have been going on between President Obama and House and Senate GOP and Democratic leaders. And she wasn’t ready to place blame for the stalled talks or give up on the prospect of a deal being reached that cuts spending and whittles away at the mounting national debt.

But Collins does disagree with the stance taken by House Republicans that no new government revenues should be included in the mix. While Collins says she agrees that tax rates should not be raised, she disagrees with the view that eliminating certain tax loopholes and subsidies also constitutes a forbidden tax hike.

“I would not support an agreement that increased tax rates, but I do believe that having an agreement that closed some tax loopholes and eliminated some unnecessary tax subsidies such as for ethanol, which I have voted repeatedly to do, would help to close the gap,” Collins said. “I do think we need to be realistic that eliminating a tax break for ethanol, for example, which alone would bring $6 billion a year - it cannot be construed as a tax increase, in my view. There are specific special interest tax breaks that clearly could be eliminated that would help us tackle the debt problem.”

Collins was much happier talking about, and sampling, Maine companies showing off their products at the show - from Topsham-based Hancock Gourmet Lobster Co. with its 10 full time and 20 part time employees and its samples of lobster risotto to New Gloucester-based Pineland Farms with its dozens of employees (Pineland also produces natural meats and potatoes) and fresh-made cheeses made right on its farm creamery to the fledgling Portland-based and lobster fishermen-owned Calendar Islands Maine Lobster with its three employees and products such as lobster pizza and bisque.

“Ultimately this is all about jobs and the promotion of Maine products. If we can help specialty food companies find new markets, new customers, it will create more jobs in the state of Maine,” Collins said. “There is a mystique that goes with the state of Maine and if you have Maine food products they’re going to sell.”

Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, helped set up a meeting a few weeks ago between Pineland Farms and the official in charge of the Department of Defense’s commissary operations. Neal Kolterman, Pineland’s vice president for sales and marketing, said at the show that he is optimistic about his company’s chances of selling their cheese to the defense department.

“It’s a matter of finding the right markets and the right customers,” Collins said. “And sometimes that customer may be the federal government, such as getting into the commissaries. “If they (Maine companies) can create products with the Maine mystique attached to them, quality products, they can command a high price, we can do manufacturing of the product in Maine and that will lead to more jobs.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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