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Tuesday November 22, 2011 | 06:48 PM

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, says thousands of Mainers will suffer financial pain if Congress doesn’t extend unemployment benefits and a Social Security payroll tax cut due to expire at the end of the year.

Other Maine lawmakers also say Mainers shouldn’t be hit with a double whammy of higher Social Security taxes and canceled unemployment benefits in January, but warn the politics of getting the extensions done won’t be easy.

The super committee’s failure to reach a debt deal figures into the problem, since many lawmakers were counting on extending unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut as part of the at least $1.2 trillion in savings package the committee was charged with presenting to Congress.

Long-term unemployed workers already have seen their benefits extended to as long as 99 weeks, but about one million people nationwide lose their benefits starting in January if Congress doesn’t agree to a further extension. The two percent payroll tax reduction was supposed to be a one-year cut, but many lawmakers and economists fear letting it expire Dec. 31 will drain needed extra spending money from peoples’ pockets and slow the economic recovery.

"I support extending both unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts.  If they aren't extended, 6,100 people in Maine alone would lose their unemployment benefits and thousands more would have less from their paychecks to spend at local stores,” Pingree said via email. “It would be a terrible time to let them end, not only for Maine families, but for the struggling economy.”

GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine agreed, saying she has backed extensions of the benefits over the past two years and that “now is not the time to allow taxes to increase on working Americans.”

Snowe said the key to reaching an agreement on extending both the unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut is cutting a deal on how to do so without increasing the deficit.

“Lawmakers must work in earnest to find agreement on these matters, including ways to pay for them,” Snowe said in an email statement.

Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District sounded a similar note.

“Both of these things promote economic growth and job creation while at the same time helping those in need,” Michaud said in a statement. “I support ensuring they continue, but my vote will depend on the details of how the extensions are structured.”

A spokesman for Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that Collins “has said repeatedly that the only way to break this stalemate in Washington is to work together to develop a bipartisan jobs plan that will help to create jobs and move our economy forward.”

Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley said that Collins backs the extension of the unemployment benefits but also believes the federal government needs to offer support and training to help unemployed workers find jobs “so that they are no longer dependent on benefits. In addition, while she supports extending the current payroll tax cuts to prevent raising taxes on hard-working families, she calls upon the president to engage in real, bipartisan discussions to come up with a plan on which both sides can agree.”


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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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