Thursday October 03, 2013 | 08:45 AM

WASHINGTON – As a candidate, Angus King campaigned on a pledge of compromise and a willingness (as he put it in his victory speech) “to listen to the best solutions from every corner and help my colleagues find common ground.”

Nearly one year later, however, Sen. King finds himself aligned with one side thus far unwilling to compromise with the other over attempts to alter Obamacare as part of a budget deal.

The juxtaposition is not lost on King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

“This has been very hard for me because one of the fundamental reasons I ran was to try to avoid situations like this,” King said in a recent interview. But King justified his stance in the government shutdown showdown by saying there’s a broader principle at play here, namely that “you don’t negotiate with hostage takers.”

Comparing the architects of the budget-Obamacare fight to “hostage takers” probably won’t go over well with conservative Republicans who see a clear link between the two. Then again, some of those same people are already angry with Maine junior senator.

Earlier this week, King caught flak when he was quoted as saying groups trying to convince college-aged students not to sign up for health insurance under Obamacare are “guilty of murder” because some of those people may die from health problems that were diagnosed too late.

While acknowledging the word “murder” may have been overly strong, King said he remained offended and “infuriated that these people, in the name of a policy that they don’t like, are trifling with people’s lives.” King himself says insurance saved his life when, at age 29, he was diagnosed with a severe case of skin cancer during a routine physical.

King has voted with the Senate Democratic bloc so far in rejecting House Republicans’ attempts to defund or delay Obamacare as part of deal to keep government doors open. The country entered a third shutdown day on Thursday as a result of the stalemate, with no end in sight.

Seated in his office, King pulled out a published “wish list” that Republicans reportedly planned to attach to legislation to lift the debt ceiling, another potential political (and financial) crisis just two weeks away. The list included such things as construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, tort reform, means-testing of Medicare and, of course, delaying Obamacare.

King insists that he is willing to consider changes to Obamacare but said negotiating policies in exchange for keeping the government open or a debt ceiling deal runs counter to the way things are supposed to happen in Washington.

“If we start to negotiate substantive legislative policies in the context of a shutdown, the Constitution is out the window,” King said. “The whole business about passing bills in the House, passing bills in the Senate and sending them to the president . . . the heck with that. Just hold the government hostage and you can get what you want.”


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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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