SACO — With Washington seemingly in political gridlock and financial markets reeling, people told Sen. Olympia Snowe on Tuesday that Congress must start working together to fix the country’s problems, not bicker over politics.

During a walking tour in downtown Saco, Snowe was told that people are anxious about the economy, the nation’s debt and what’s to come. People think that politicians should stop arguing simply to make political points, said Peg Poulin, owner of a State Farm Insurance and Financial Services branch.

“It’s really almost embarrassing,” she said.

Snowe, a moderate Republican, said there’s little room for negotiation in Washington these days with the partisan politics. It’s time for lawmakers to stop politicking and start governing, she said.

“I’m embarrassed by all of us,” Snowe told a restaurant owner. “I’ve never seen a worse Congress in my whole political life.”

Snowe was a U.S. representative from 1979 to 1995, and has been a senator ever since.

Back in Maine for the August congressional recess, she met with people at small businesses and on the sidewalk to hear their concerns.

Dick Petersen, who owns a computer business, told Snowe he’s disappointed that Congress hasn’t come up with a long-term plan to bring the nation’s debt under control. He asked why lawmakers are taking a recess this summer. No business would dare shut down at a time of crisis, he said.

“We all have 30-year mortgages,” he said. “But we don’t hear about Washington coming up with a 30-year plan to pay the debt.”

Others told Snowe that last week’s downgrade of the nation’s credit rating is worrisome, and that the fragile economy has people uneasy.

“People are nervous about money. They’re nervous about investing money,” Poulin said. “They’re not sure it will be there for them.”

Snowe is popular in Maine. She won her 2006 senatorial election with 74 percent of the vote and the 2000 election with 69 percent. She has never faced a primary challenge in her career.

But she’s being challenged by two Republicans in next year’s primary. She said politics are so divided these days that it leaves moderates like her open to challenges.

“That’s why I’m facing a primary challenge, because I’ve been a bridge builder,” she said.

Also Tuesday, Snowe responded to action by the U.S. Department of Justice and four states Monday to intervene in a whistleblower lawsuit against Education Management Corp., for which her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan, is board chairman.

She said the Pittsburgh-based for-profit college corporation is frustrated that the government is suing it, because it took extra steps to ensure its compliance with federal law.

The lawsuit alleges that the company broke a 1992 law prohibiting for-profit colleges from paying recruiters incentive compensation. The company denies the allegations.

Snowe said Tuesday that the company hired two independent law firms to verify its compliance with federal regulations.