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Monday September 19, 2011 | 01:34 PM

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st, was quick today to add her voice in support of President Obama’s $3 trillion deficit reduction plan that includes $1.5 trillion in tax hikes.

But GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe also promptly decried Obama’s calls for the tax hikes, though the Maine Republican said she did welcome the president’s call for Congress to undertake a comprehensive overhaul of the entire tax code.

Meanwhile, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine reserved her first reaction to the plan for criticism of the president’s proposal for slashing costs at the financially ailing U.S. Postal Service.

Pingree has been a staunch supporter of the president’s $447 billion jobs plan, which includes infrastructure spending and is paid for mostly by limiting itemized tax deductions to individuals with more than $200,000 in income and on households with more than $250,000 in income. Pingree also didn’t back away today from Obama’s deficit reduction plan, which adds on additional revenues by ending the Bush era income tax cuts for wealthier Americans. That has been a sore point with liberal Democrats, who were angry with Obama last year for, in their view, caving to Republicans on that issue.

“It's time to for millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share,
which I think should include letting the Bush tax cuts expire and closing loopholes that let wealthy taxpayers like hedge fund managers pay lower tax rates than working families,” Pingree said via email today after being asked for her response to Obama’s speech outlining his plan.  “I also support President Obama’s proposed surcharge on millionaires—the “Buffett Rule.”

Pingree’s husband Donald Sussman, of course, is himself a billionaire hedge fund manager.

But Snowe said in a statement that. “Raising taxes is both a bad idea for the economy and the wrong way to address our deficits and debt.”

Snowe says Obama’s tax hike proposals would “slow or strangle” already anemic economic growth and “stifle” the job creation among the small businesses that Snowe says also would be impacted by higher taxes on wealthier Americans.

Some Republicans, including Snowe and Collins, say they aren’t adverse to all tax hikes.

Snowe and Collins are open to closing some tax loopholes such as breaks for major oil companies – and Collins says she could back a tax hike on those making $5 million plus.

But Snowe and Collins say too many small businesses would be impacted by allowing the Bush tax cuts on wealthier Americans to expire, because of the way small business owners file their taxes. That’s an argument that Democrats dismiss as bogus, citing a report by the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation that just a fraction of businesses would be affected, and that many of those are partnerships or investors, not the type of small business job creators cited by Republicans.

Snowe said in her statement that amassing debt, not taxes, is the main problem that must be addressed.

“Clearly, spending is the problem, so why would more taxes be the solution?” Snowe said.

Obama had countered that GOP contention in his speech today by saying that a balanced approach that includes both tax hikes and spending cuts is needed. “This is not class warfare, it’s math,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, Collins’ first reaction to the Obama speech was in her role as the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Relations. Obama’s plan includes supporting a number of planned postal service cutbacks, including halting Saturday mail delivery service, as well as having Congress return to the postal service a $7 billion payment made to the federal pension system.

The postal service says its plans, which also include closing several hundred mail processing facilities, could save about $20 billion.

But Collins, who is working on postal service reform legislation, said that while Obama is “for the first time…addressing the financial crisis at the U.S. Postal Service. Unfortunately, the Administration's proposals will not prevent the Postal Service from becoming insolvent.  There is no response to the Postmaster General's proposal to restructure the Postal Service's underlying health and pension costs.  There is little attempt to address the workforce issues that drive 80 percent of USPS's expenses.” 

A reaction to Obama’s deficit reduction plan is also being sought from Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of the 2nd district. Michaud previously had indicated that while he was reviewing Obama’s jobs package to see if he thought it would actually create jobs, Obama’s “revenue provisions recognize that we can’t pay for new proposals on the backs of the hardworking families and small businesses we are looking to help.”

(Updated as of 3:50 pm:

Michaud said that he is still reviewing the plan, but said that it’s “unlikely Congress will adopt all” of what Obama seeks. Still, Michaud said that lawmakers who are serving on the debt reduction super committee should consider Obama’s proposals as they go about their work trying to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in savings later this year.

“The ‘my way or the highway’ approach, no matter who takes it, hurts our ability to find common ground,” Michaud said in a statement, adding that he supports Obama’s “call for a more equitable tax system and making sure that our budget isn’t balanced on the backs of the middle class and small businesses.”)


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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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