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Thursday December 22, 2011 | 12:00 PM

(Updated as of 2:30 p.m.: Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also says that the House should pass the Senate bill for a two month extension of the payroll tax cut. Snowe says Congress should come back earlier, and give up a holiday recess scheduled to last until late January, to work out a longer term deal.

“At this point, the House should pass the Senate’s short term extension to ensure 160 million hardworking Americans won’t lose important tax relief at the end of this year,” Snowe said in a statement.  “Moreover, at the same time the President and the leadership of both houses of Congress should commit to canceling the scheduled recess for January so that we can hit the ground running on forging an ironclad, long-term solution on this and so many other critical issues for the nation – so we don’t repeat 2011 where we failed to begin to tackle issues at the beginning of the year such as a federal budget, our deficits and debt, and the payroll tax extension.”)

Sen. Susan Collins says House Republicans should “immediately pass the two-month extension of the payroll tax bill, as the Senate has done.”

The Maine Republican said via email that she agrees with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who this morning said that House Republican leaders should allow the two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut approved 89-10 by the Senate to go into effect now. Then, the two bodies can negotiate a final one-year extension that Collins and most other lawmakers say they prefer.

“I much prefer a year-long extension, which is what I proposed in the bipartisan jobs bill that I introduced,” Collins said. “However, I agree with the Republican Leader that the House should immediately pass the two-month extension of the payroll tax bill, as the Senate has done.  I also agree that the Majority Leader should quickly agree to work with the House to negotiate a long term extension.  We simply must prevent a tax increase that will otherwise occur on January 1.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, also voted for the Senate’s two-month extension and has urged House and Senate leaders to make sure a tax hike doesn’t go into effect Jan. 1, though she has not yet specifically called on the House GOP to immediately pass the Senate bill.

Also at stake are long-term unemployment benefits also expiring as of Dec. 31 unless an extension is approved by lawmakers.

About 5,200 Mainers would lose unemployment benefits in January if no extension is passed, according to the Maine office of Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Nate Belanger, 38, of West Bath, an electrician who has only found temporary work on and off over the past three years and fears is benefits would expire Dec. 31, is among those urging a resolution to the standoff.

“Pass the darn bill,” Belanger said about his message to Congress. “Get off your high horse, come down to our level for a minute and think about where we are at right now.”

Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, also have blasted House Republicans for rejecting the Senate bill.


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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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