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Tuesday December 13, 2011 | 10:12 AM

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is supposed to take to the Senate floor later this morning to make her pitch for passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

It’s an issue Snowe has pushed for a long time, but approval by the Democratic-controlled Senate is considered an uphill climb, at best.

But many Democrats charge that the balanced budget amendment would result in draconian cuts to program that Snowe says she supports, such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

State Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland says that Snowe’s preferred balanced budget amendment, offered up with Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., would require tight spending caps, keep all the Bush tax cuts in place permanently, including those for the wealthy, and inevitably result in draconian spending cuts. Hinck is one of two Democrats vying for his party’s nomination to run for Snowe’s seat, along with former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap.

 The balanced budget amendment vote was set up by the debt ceiling hike agreement earlier this year, the same agreement that led to the so-called congressional super committee that was supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

That super committee failed in its work, of course, triggering a requirement for $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts. But those cuts could well be undone by lawmakers concerned that they impact too heavily on defense and Medicare.

The House already rejected a balanced budget amendment, failing to come up with the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

But Snowe is expected to say on the Senate floor that the super committee’s failure is a prime example of what Congress needs a balanced budget amendment.

“I have consistently and vehemently championed a balanced budget amendment for the past three decades in both the House and Senate, to prevent precisely the kind of fiscal quagmire we are enmeshed in today, as our federal government borrows an astounding 40 cents of every dollar we spend,” Snowe says in prepared remarks. “So the impending vote to amend the Constitution represents a choice between changing business as usual in Washington, or embracing the status quo that we can no longer afford.” 

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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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