Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — Political groups in Maine are trying to capitalize on congressional votes in the government shutdown stalemate to target Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud as the two politicians approach the 2014 elections.
A sign at the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz., indicates the park is closed on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. More than 400 national parks are closed as Congress remains deadlocked over federal government funding.
From left Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Budget Committee, tell reporters that Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republicans are the obstacle to ending the government shutdown crisis, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. President Barack Obama brought congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday for the first time since a partial government shutdown began, but there was no sign of progress toward ending an impasse that has idled 800,000 federal workers and curbed services around the country.
The shutdown, entering its fourth day Friday, is likely a boon for political operatives as members of Congress from both parties cast votes that will make easy fodder for attack ads in the next election.
The shutdown is already being used in ads for both major candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial election this fall. And it appears that Maine’s political parties hope to seize on the issues in next year’s races.
Maine Republicans issued a statement Thursday that heavily criticized Michaud – the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a candidate for governor – for his vote on a veterans-related bill “that contradicts everything the Maine people think they know about Congressman Michaud.”
Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett quickly followed up with a fundraising appeal asking supporters to help “hold Mike Michaud accountable and stop him from taking the Blaine House in 2014.”
Maine Democrats, meanwhile, continued their assault on Collins – who will be up for re-election next year – for saying she opposed the Republican-led effort to link Obamacare with keeping the government running, then voted with her party to defund or delay the health care law.
“Sen. Collins can pat herself on the back all she wants for sternly worded PR statements, but when it’s time to stand up and be counted, she’s just one of the GOP lemmings taking the U.S. economy over the cliff,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said in a prepared statement.
In both cases, the Maine politicians voted the same way as most or all of their party colleagues, reflecting Republicans’ and Democrats’ entrenched positions.
Collins and Michaud insist there is much more to their votes than the opposing parties would have Mainers believe.
Michaud has, in fact, voted against three Republican-sponsored bills to fund veterans’ benefits programs and pay National Guard and Reserve personnel during the shutdown. Thirty-six Democrats voted for the National Guard bill.
The measure has little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Democrats in both chambers, including Michaud, have called on Republicans to pass a bill funding all of government rather than “piecemeal” attempts to solve problems created by the shutdown.
In a floor speech Thursday, Michaud called the legislation to fund veterans’ benefits during the shutdown “nothing more than a political ploy” and accused Republicans of using veterans as political pawns. He is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would avoid similar situations in the future by essentially pre-funding veterans’ benefits programs.
“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle say a vote against this bill is a vote to block veterans’ services,” Michaud said before the vote. “It’s actually this government shutdown, which they’ve caused, that threatens the VA’s ability to provide services for our veterans.”
Michaud also co-authored letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arguing that a bill already passed by Congress and signed by Obama authorizes the Pentagon to pay National Guard personnel during the shutdown. More than 400 civilian technicians who work for the Maine Army or Air National Guard have been furloughed without pay.
Collins has been under fire for what critics contend are hypocritical votes intended to placate both sides in the shutdown debate. Collins, who plans to seek a fourth term next year, has countered that there is nothing hypocritical about her votes.
She has been an outspoken critic of attempts by some of her colleagues to link the temporary budget bill to the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare. Collins has called it an unwinnable strategy that will only lead to a harmful shutdown because President Obama and Senate Democrats would never support the bill.
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Demonstrators hold signs while protesting outside the Lafayatte, Ind. office of U.S. Representative Todd Rokita, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. They were protesting the government shutdown and Rokita’s stance on it.
AP Photo/The Journal & Courier