Politics

October 11, 2013

Sen. Collins skeptical of debt-ceiling deadline

The Maine Republican says she believes the Treasury Department would be able to buy ‘a little more time’ before a default.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

From left, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., talk as they leave a closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013. President Barack Obama is making plans to talk with Republican lawmakers at the White House in the coming days as pressure builds on both sides to resolve their deadlock over the federal debt limit and the partial government shutdown.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

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“It is psychological rather than technical,” Colgan said of the Oct. 17 deadline. “But by that point, the damage is done.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged Congress to quickly address the shutdown and the debt ceiling.

“There are a lot of moving pieces and different views being discussed, but the needs of the country are clear,” Chamber Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten said in a written statement. “Congress and the administration must find a path forward on a continuing resolution and on the debt limit to preserve the normal operations of government and to remove a serious threat to the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Obama met with congressional Democrats at the White House on Wednesday and plans to meet with Republicans on Thursday. The invitations were viewed as a rare positive sign as the nation entered its 10th day of a partial government shutdown caused by a congressional stalemate over whether to link the budget to funding the Affordable Care Act, as some Republicans insist.

The Senate is expected to hold the first votes later this week on a Democratic plan to increase the debt ceiling with no other issues attached. Collins said attempting to increase the debt limit by $1 trillion “appears to be a non-starter in my caucus” without changes to spending or to the health care act.

Collins would not say whether she would vote to proceed with consideration of the Democratic debt ceiling plan and predicted that Democrats will fail to muster the six Republicans needed to break a filibuster.

“My focus has been to try to come up with a solution . . . to get us out of this impasse,” Collins said.

Her plan would reopen now-shuttered federal offices by funding the government for six months at an annual rate of $986 billion – the level proposed by Republicans and reluctantly agreed to by Democrats. It would also give federal agencies more flexibility to implement the forced sequestration budget cuts that began in March.

The sticking point for Democrats, however, is likely to be a proposed repeal of the health care act’s 2.3 percent tax on medical equipment and devices, offsetting the $30 billion loss through temporary pension plan adjustments for companies with fixed pension plans.

The majority of the Senate voted earlier this year on a budget amendment to repeal the medical device tax, but that was before House Republicans linked the Affordable Care Act to keeping the government open. Since then, Senate Democrats have rebuffed any attempted changes to the health care law.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he wasn’t sure he could support Collins’ plan.

“I think it’s a creative proposal and I’ve heard similar discussions in the House,” King said in an interview. “But what I have to get over is my concern that if we reward this kind of activity . . . we will be doing this a year or six months from now and it will become the norm for how we legislate. And that really bothers me.”

Collins said she has been approached by several Democrats interested in her plan, but acknowledged that no one has pledged support. A similar measure is under discussion in the House.

“I think they feel held back by leadership at this point,” Collins said of Democrats. “But I am hopeful that this bill provides at least concepts that could be the basis for reopening government and moving forward.”

Washington correspondent Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:kmiller@pressherald.com
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