WASHINGTON — Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine both voted in favor of a short-term extension of a Social Security payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits approved by the Senate on Saturday.

But the Maine Republicans split on a nearly $1 trillion year-end spending bill that also passed the Senate on Saturday.

Collins voted in favor of the spending bill, while Snowe voted against it.

Snowe criticized the catch-all spending bill, approved just in time to avert a government shutdown, for cuts to a low-income energy assistance program and for being rushed through Congress without giving lawmakers enough time to review the details.

Collins said she, too, was disappointed that the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was slashed, but said it was important to pass the overall spending bill.

“If Congress had not acted, the federal government would have been forced to shut down,” Collins said. “That would represent a complete failure of governance.”

Snowe said the $3.5 billion in the bill for the heating assistance program “remains a massive cut as Mainers and Americans across the country are experiencing high prices for home heating oil during the holiday season.”

The LIHEAP money in the bill is more than the $2.57 billion President Obama requested for the program, but far less than the $4.7 billion the program received last winter.

Snowe says she and Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will keep pushing a bill to boost the program back to $4.7 billion level. Collins says she, too, supports the effort to win more money for the heating assistance program.

Snowe said she and Reed and Sanders wrote Senate leaders Saturday requesting their LIHEAP funding bill be brought to the Senate floor in January.

About 65,000 Maine households are expected to apply for heating assistance aid this winter. Last winter, the average benefit per Maine household over the heating season was $802.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, voted against the spending bill that passed the House on Friday, citing cuts to the LIHEAP program and more money spent on the war in Afghanistan.

But Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, said he regarded the spending bill as a bipartisan compromise that included money for research into illnesses suffered by veterans who served in the first Gulf War, and shipbuilding at Bath Iron Works.

The House is expected to vote this week on the payroll tax cut extension. 

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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