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Saturday July 30, 2011 | 03:36 PM

Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine were two of just four Republican senators who did not sign a letter today to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opposing Reid’s debt ceiling plan.

The purpose of the letter, signed by 43 Republican senators, allows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to show Reid that the Democrat’s bill could not pass a procedural “cloture” vote set for 1 a.m. Sunday morning. Sixty votes are needed to reach cloture and proceed to final debate on a bill.

Reid’s proposal raises the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion through 2012 in exchange for  the goal of cutting spending by $2.2 trillion over the next decade.

“The plan you have proposed would not alter the spending trajectory that is putting our economy and national security at risk,” the letter signed by the 43 GOP senators tells Reid. “In return for an unprecedented $2.4 trillion debt limit increase, your amendment reduces spending by less than $1 trillion over the next decade. Setting aside the $200 billion shortfall between the CBO scored savings and the $2.4 trillion debt limit increase, identified by the Congressional Budget Office, most of the proposal’s alleged savings are based on a false claim of credit for reductions in war-related spending that were already scheduled to occur.”

Even if Collins, Snowe and the other two Republican senators who did not sign the letter – Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – voted for cloture and so did all 53 senators in the Democratic caucus, that would still leave Reid three vote shy of the needed 60 votes. Collins and Snowe have not yet responded to questions about why they did not sign the letter, but it does not necessarily mean they won’t join other Republicans in blocking cloture. (Updated: See comments below for more information about why Collins and Snowe did not sign the letter. It doesn't mean they support the Reid plan.)

Snowe, Collins, Brown and Murkowski are four of the more moderate members of the Senate GOP caucus, and the letter struck a relatively partisan, hardline, tone.

We are writing to let you know that we will not vote for your $2.4 trillion debt limit amendment which, if enacted, would result in the single largest debt ceiling increase in the history of the United States,” the 43 GOP senators told Reid in the letter. “In addition to this unprecedented increase in borrowing authority, your amendment completely fails to address our current fiscal imbalance and lacks any serious effort to ensure that any subsequent spending cuts are enacted.”

Once Reid’s plan is blocked, Reid and McConnell are expected to try to come up with  a compromise plan that could pass both the Senate and the House before the federal government starts to default on its obligations Aug. 2, this coming Tuesday.

(Updated as of 4 p.m.: Collins made it clear she will not support Reid's plan, but said she did not sign the letter because it did not contribute to a bipartisan attempt at a solution to the debt ceiling impasse.

“At this point, I do not think this letter is conducive to the bipartisan negotiations that must occur to avert the default and to bring about real cuts and budget reforms," Collins said. "I do not support Senator Reid's current plan. It claims $1 trillion in illusory 'savings' for Iraq and Afghanistan which, because thankfully the wars are winding down, never would be spent. Time is running out. It would be more productive to work together to develop bipartisan legislation that averts a default, reins in spending, and imposes real budget constraints. It is incredible that the president has yet to present a real plan to resolve this crisis.”)

(Updated as of 5:15 p.m.: Ken Lundberg, Snowe’s spokesman, said that, "Rather than sign letters, she's looking for solutions. Like her colleagues, she (Snowe) believes it is time to act responsibly on the debt crisis, including meaningful spending reductions.”

Snowe “continues to encourage bipartisan leaders to meet with the president and arrive at compromise,” Lundberg said. “Instead, it appears the Senate majority is dragging out the debate bringing us closer to the critical Tuesday deadline.")

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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.
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