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Maine's delegation supports the debt ceiling compromise — with reservations

Days away from a default crisis, the Capitol is illuminated as the Senate works into the night to finish votes on amendments on the big debt ceiling and budget cuts package, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday evening, June 1, 2023.
J. Scott Applewhite
Days away from a default crisis, the Capitol is illuminated as the Senate works into the night to finish votes on amendments on the big debt ceiling and budget cuts package, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday evening, June 1, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Maine's entire congressional delegation voted for the bill to increase the debt ceiling this week and avoid defaulting on the national debt. But all four members also expressed different reservations about the compromise.

U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden joined the vast majority of their Democratic colleagues in supporting the bill but struck starkly disparate tones after their votes.

Golden, who represents Maine’s 2nd District, is one of the more moderate members of the House and was critical of the leadership of both parties.

"I'm really disappointed with the process,” Golden said in an interview. “I think the Democratic leadership really chose a partisan path forward that was always going to fail. But at the end of the day, I think the Republicans really came up short."

While Republicans claim the agreement will cut spending by $40 billion, Golden said he believes it actually increases spending when you look beyond what he calls "tricky spreadsheet maneuvers."

Golden, who unveiled his own proposal to limit spending and avoid a government default earlier this spring, said he doesn't necessarily object to Republicans' insistence that able-bodied adults be required to work or volunteer to qualify for welfare benefits. But he added that as a matter of fairness, Congress should also close tax loopholes that allow the wealthiest Americans to avoid paying income taxes.

"Right now, I would say our political leaders in both parties prefer combat to compromise,” Golden said. “Even if they know that at the end of the day they will probably land on a compromise, they will choose to lead this country through a divisive fight before we land there."

Pingree, who is a member of the Progressive Caucus, accused House Republicans of threatening to "destroy our national credit to score political points with their extremist caucus” but said the brinksmanship left “little room to negotiate.”

“The choice should have never come down to taking food away from older Americans or crashing the economy,” Pingree, of Maine's 1st District, said in a statement. “That’s why I will vigorously use my seats on the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees to protect programs like SNAP from further cuts. I thank President Biden and his team for managing impossible demands from the Republican side. With our economy pushed to the brink, we had little room to negotiate.”

In the other chamber, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said she voted for the bill to avoid a default. But in a Senate floor speech, Collins joined other Republicans in saying the compromise doesn't contain enough money for the Defense Department given global threats from Russia and other nations.

In particular, Collins said President Joe Biden's budget plan is inadequate to meet the challenge posed by China, which has grown its Navy to more than 400 ships. Maine’s Bath Iron Works is one of two shipyards that builds destroyers for the U.S. Navy.

"This budget request would actually shrink the size of our Navy,” Collins said. “We would end up with a fleet of 291 ships. That is six ships fewer than today's fleet of 297 ships."

The agreement also would impose a 1% spending cut across the federal government if Congress fails to pass the dozen budget bills. Collins was also critical of that language. But as the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Collins pledged to work with Democratic committee chair U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington to ensure the bills are sent to the Senate floor.

Likewise, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King said the critical objective was to avoid an economically catastrophic default on the debt.

“There are some compromises in the bill that I wish weren't necessary, but that is inevitable in a divided government,” King said in a statement. “The most important part of the agreement we passed today is that it averts a catastrophic default that would raise prices, cost countless jobs, and devastate the global economy. I appreciate that Speaker McCarthy, President Biden, and my colleagues negotiated this bill in good faith.”