Monday March 04, 2013 | 08:30 PM

WASHINGTON -- Maine Sen. Susan Collins is among the lawmakers who have received calls recently from President Barack Obama as he apparently looks beyond congressional leaders for a deal on the “sequester” budget cuts.

Obama and Collins spoke on Monday, although her office provided few details about the conversation.

“Senator Collins said they had a good discussion about the need for a bipartisan agreement on several critical issues including the unsustainable, $16.4 trillion debt and sequestration,” Collins’ spokesman Kevin Kelley said in an email Monday evening. “She encouraged further discussions of a substantive nature.”

The New York Times reported on Sunday that Obama had begun reaching out to more rank-and-file Republican members of the Senate after the White House failed to broker a compromise with GOP leaders. And on Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press briefing that the president called a number of lawmakers to talk budget cuts and deficit reduction.

"The President had conversations with Republicans and Democrats over the weekend about the sequester specifically, and the broader issue of balanced deficit reduction," Carney said. "And he spoke here the other day about believing that there is a caucus of common sense out there, lawmakers in both parties who understand that we need to do tough things to achieve entitlement reforms because that's the right thing for our economy, and we need to do tough things on tax reform . . . in a way that generate revenues to pay down our deficit."

 

The $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will disproportionately affect communities with large numbers of federal employees or deep ties to the defense industry.

The cuts were supposed to be so onerous as to scare Congress and the White House into compromising. But Democrats and Republicans deadlocked over the mix of spending reductions and new revenues that would be used to close the gap. And some Republicans appear content to allow the cuts to remain in place as the first installment in a debt-reduction plan that will slash spending by roughly $1 billion under the full, 10-year sequester plan.

Nearly 7,000 civilian employees in Maine – including more than 4,000 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard alone – are facing up to 22 unpaid furlough days through the end of September if the budget cuts remain in place. That prospect has prompted Collins, Sen. Angus King as well as the others of the Maine and New Hampshire delegations to urge congressional action to replace the across-the-board cuts with more precise spending reductions.

On Friday, Collins introduced a bill with Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., that would give individual agencies more discretion to implement the cuts but with congressional oversight.

 

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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.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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