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Maine's Congressional Delegation Wants to Stay and Work

Congress is due to recess next week for the national party conventions, and won’t be back at work until early September. Members of Maine’s delegation say that with a new federal budget year starting October 1st, that won’t leave much time to act on the appropriations bills that will keep the government operating.

Senator Susan Collins, who first joined the us senate in 1997, says she has never seen Congress take just a long summer break.

“I don’t ever remember in all the time I have had the privilege of serving in the Senate a seven week recess before and I think that’s excessive. I realize the political conventions are occurring but still, the work of the nation has to get done.”

Collins, a Republican who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, says the panel has done its work on the budget bills and the full senate could complete work rather quickly. But, she says, the House is another matter.

“There’s lots of chaos on the House side when it comes to the appropriations process,” Collins says. “In the Senate we have been moving them through, it has been challenging as I know from managing the floor.”

Democratic First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, acknowledges that the House has not been able to deal with the basic bills to fund government. and she points to the continuing practice of attaching unrelated issues to the budget bills over the past several sessions.

“Last year we got stopped in our tracks because of a debate over whether we should have confederate flags on sale at gift shops in national parks,” says Pingree.

This year the battle has been over budget amendments addressing LGBT issues and gun control, and the conflict effectively shut down consideration of budget bills before the Fourth of July recess. Pingree hopes the House can get back on track prior to the planned long break this summer. However, independent Sen. Angus King fears that there simply won’t be enough time.

“I just, I just don’t think it is justifiable,” says King. “I am kicking around a proposal with some friends called no budget, no recess. The idea, before we go, we got to get a budget done.”

King says there has also been talk of a “no budget, no pay” resolution, but he doubts its constitutionality and says its unlikely to pass. Back on the House side, Pingree says likes the idea of prohibiting a summer break unless and until the budget bills are taken care of.

“You know, that’s a perfectly logical sentiment,” says Pingree. “And believe me, people would pay attention to getting their work done and they wouldn’t get sidetracked on these, on these you know non-essential issues if someone said OK, there is no summer recess, you can’t go back to your district until you finish your work.”

Collins supports the idea behind King’s proposed initiative. Both worry that if the budget bills are not acted on congress will fall back on a continuing resolution to keep the government operating.

Says King, “A continuing resolution only funds you at last year’s levels and sort of freezes everything, and you can’t do anything new, you can’t make changes. It’s government by automatic pilot.”

Second district Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin declined to be interviewed for this story, but in a statement said he shares the frustration that the budget process has been delayed. He says he would “welcome” Congress going back to work after the convention break to complete work on the budget bills.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.