October 12, 2013

Susan Collins pitches plan to end shutdown, raise debt limit

The plan appears to gain her party’s support, but neither the president nor conservative House Republicans immediately endorse it.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, walks into the White House for a meeting with President Obama and other senators Friday. Collins presented one of several plans for re-opening the government and raising the nation’s debt limit.

The Associated Press

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talks with reporters after arriving on Capitol Hill following a meeting between Republican senators and the president.

The Associated Press

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“I hear different things about it, so I don’t want to comment until I see it,” Boxer said.

Friday’s meeting followed a much smaller gathering at the White House on Thursday night between Obama and House Republican leaders. Boehner and others laid out their proposal to extend the debt ceiling – the country’s $16.7 trillion borrowing limit – by six weeks, a time frame that Democrats have rejected as too short.

House Republicans are now developing plans to also end the partial government shutdown as part of a package that includes cuts in benefit programs. The Associated Press reported that Obama spoke to Boehner on the phone Friday after he met with Senate Republicans about their potentially competing plans to end the shutdown.

The spate of meetings along with encouraging statements from lawmakers buoyed hopes that the stalemate between Republicans, Democrats and the White House may be softening.

“Now we’re back here to actually work on trying to get a solution on a bipartisan basis,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after returning to the Capitol, according to The Associated Press.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers remain on furlough – and hundreds of thousands more are working without pay – because of the shutdown prompted by conservative Republicans’ attempt to link funding for government operations to the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans have passed numerous piecemeal approaches to fund specific government functions, but Democrats have rejected most of those.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has proposed lifting the debt ceiling by $1 trillion through the end of 2014 and may bring that bill up for an initial vote Saturday. But Republicans have said their caucus is unwilling to go along with such a large increase without concessions on spending.

The plan developed by Collins and other senators is a mix of previous proposals intended to win bipartisan support but that would require concessions on both sides. Several news reports suggested that Collins is also working with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, but a spokesman for Manchin declined to comment.

The current version would extend the debt ceiling through the end of January and reopen federal offices by funding the government for six months at an annual rate of $986 billion. That is a level that Republicans say is consistent with congressional budget controls and maintains the sequestration budget cuts.

Democrats, who want to end or replace the sequestration cuts, grudgingly agreed to the figure only recently. Collins’ plan would give federal agencies more flexibility to implement the cuts.

But the proposal also calls for delaying a 2.3 percent tax on medical equipment and devices included within the Affordable Care Act – a change from an earlier version that called for repealing the tax.

The Senate has already voted to eliminate the tax, which businesses strongly oppose and critics predict will cost jobs. The tax does not relate directly to the Affordable Care Act’s primary mission – to lower the number of uninsured individuals nationwide. But Democrats have since resisted Republican attempts to use budget negotiations to change the health care act.

The tax also helps finance the health care law, an issue that Boxer raised when asked about Democratic support for eliminating or delaying the tax.

“The most important thing to us is that it is deficit neutral and that it doesn’t bust the budget,” Boxer said.

Collins proposes to offset the $30 billion loss from repealing the tax by allowing companies with fixed pension plans to temporarily lower contributions to pension funds when interest rates are low in anticipation of higher rates later on. The “pension smoothing” would result in higher tax revenues to the federal government by lowering companies’ deductions.

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Additional Photos

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, center, talks with, from left, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Sen.. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, and Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday. Republicans are offering to pass legislation to avert a default and end the 11-day partial government shutdown as part of a framework that would include cuts in benefit programs, officials said Friday.

The Associated Press

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, walks in the rain back to her bus at the North Portico of the White House in Washington on Friday after she and Republican senators met with President Barack Obama regarding the government shutdown and debt ceiling.

The Associated Press


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