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Maine Delegation Divided in Looming Debt Limit Battle
09/16/2013   Reported By: Mal Leary

A new battle is shaping up in Congress, where Republicans are demanding further spending cuts before they'll agree to lift the debt ceiling. That's the legal limit on borrowing by the federal government to cover its current obligations. Despite an October deadline for action, President Obama has said he will not negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling. And, as Mal Leary reports, members of Maine's congressional delegation are also divided about how to resolve the issue.

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The root of the problem is that Congress and the president continue to approve spending in excess of federal revenues. The new federal budget year starts Oct. 1. But so far, there's no agreement to bridge the gap or to alter the course. Republican Sen. Susan Collins says that cannot continue.

"The national debt is now approaching $17 trillion - that is an enormous drag on our economy and a threat to our future prosperity," Collins says. "The tab for every man woman and child exceeds $53,000."

Like other members of her party, Collins says spending must be cut and some new revenues generated to bring the budget into balance. Under those conditions, she supports raising the debt limit. Independent Sen. Angus King also wants to raise the debt limit, and supports an approach that would cut some spending and raise some new revenues.

"Voting against the debt limit is like you or I at the end of the month saying, 'Well I guess we just won't pay our credit card bill this month," King says. "What would that do to our credit? It would be a mess and we would be in trouble."

King says increasing the debt limit should not be a partisan issue. He says it is a manufactured crisis that reminds him of a popular cartoon.

"I think we are like Wiley Coyote in (the) Road Runner (cartoon). We throw anvils off the cliff, run down to the bottom, look at the camera with a dumb smile on our faces and then act surprised when the anvil hits us on the head," King says. "I mean, we keep creating these crises ourselves."

Democratic Congressman Mike Michaud says everyone knows the issue needs to be solved. Last month, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned in a letter that the U.S. will hit the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in mid-October. Without a continuing resolution passed by Congress, the government could shut down some federal services and delay payments for Social Security, unemployment, Medicare and Medicaid. Michaud says that's not acceptable.

"We definitely have to try to find some solutions to it early on, rather than waiting until the very last minute to actually deal with it," Michaud says.

Michaud blames House GOP leadership for not working on the issue over the summer. He says the current schedule this month leaves very little time to address the debt limit and the deficit.

"We are only in session eight days in September, and that is a huge concern I have will all of these pending issues that need to be dealt with by the end of the fiscal year," Michaud says.

First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree agrees it will be difficult to reach agreement, with Congress scheduled to meet so few times. House leaders have said they may meet for more days than originally planned. But Pingree says it is unconscionable that some are playing politics with the debt limit.

"In the past, Congress didn't even debate or use it as a bargaining chip," she says. "It was something that the country did automatically, it represented the full faith and credit of the United States, and to make sure people trusted our credit rating and our economy."

And Pingree says it should be noted that the economy is improving and the federal budget deficit is decreasing. "The deficit is being reduced and the country is doing a little bit better economically," she says, "so it is not clear when the debt limit will have to be changed."

President Obama has said that he will not negotiate on the debt limit because doing so would fuel the idea going forward that the U.S. could be forced into default of its loans by any side in a policy dispute.


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