WASHINGTON — Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine are among just four GOP senators who did not sign a letter Saturday to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., opposing Reid’s debt-ceiling plan.

But that doesn’t mean the Maine Republicans support Reid’s plan to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion through 2012 in exchange for spending cuts of $2.2 trillion over the next decade.

The letter, signed by 43 Republican senators, allows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to show Reid that the Democrats’ bill would not pass a procedural “cloture” vote set for 1 a.m. Sunday morning. Sixty votes are needed to reach cloture and proceed to final debate on a bill as lawmakers grapple this weekend to reach a compromise on the debt ceiling standoff ahead of a looming Aug. 2 default date.

Collins said she did not sign the letter because, “At this point, I do not think this letter is conducive to the bipartisan negotiations that must occur to avert the default and to bring about real cuts and budget reforms.”

But, “I do not support Senator Reid’s current plan,” Collins said. “It claims $1 trillion in illusory ‘savings’ for Iraq and Afghanistan which, because thankfully the wars are winding down, never would be spent.”

Collins added that, “Time is running out. It would be more productive to work together to develop bipartisan legislation that averts a default, reins in spending, and imposes real budget constraints. It is incredible that the president has yet to present a real plan to resolve this crisis.”

Ken Lundberg, Snowe’s spokesman, said that, “Rather than sign letters, she’s looking for solutions. Like her colleagues, she (Snowe) believes it is time to act responsibly on the debt crisis, including meaningful spending reductions.”

Snowe “continues to encourage bipartisan leaders to meet with the president and arrive at compromise,” Lundberg said. “Instead, it appears the Senate majority is dragging out the debate bringing us closer to the critical Tuesday deadline.”

The GOP-led House already cast a largely party line vote this afternoon rejecting the Reid plan, even before there is a Senate vote on what Reid proposes. That comes a day after the Senate voted to table a House GOP-approved debt ceiling plan that raised the debt ceiling by $900 billion, good for about six months, in exchange for cutting spending by $917 billion over 10 years.

“The plan you have proposed would not alter the spending trajectory that is putting our economy and national security at risk,” the letter signed by the 43 GOP senators tells Reid. “In return for an unprecedented $2.4 trillion debt limit increase, your amendment reduces spending by less than $1 trillion over the next decade. Setting aside the $200 billion shortfall between the CBO scored savings and the $2.4 trillion debt limit increase, identified by the Congressional Budget Office, most of the proposal’s alleged savings are based on a false claim of credit for reductions in war-related spending that were already scheduled to occur.”

The other two Republican senators who did not sign the letter – Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – are, like Snowe and Collins, considered moderates in the Senate GOP caucus.

“We are writing to let you know that we will not vote for your $2.4 trillion debt limit amendment which, if enacted, would result in the single largest debt ceiling increase in the history of the United States,” the other 43 GOP senators told Reid in the letter. “In addition to this unprecedented increase in borrowing authority, your amendment completely fails to address our current fiscal imbalance and lacks any serious effort to ensure that any subsequent spending cuts are enacted.”

For his part, Reid said today McConnell and other Republicans need to work with Democrats to find a resolution to the standoff.

“We’re willing to listen to Republican ideas to make this proposal better, but time is running short,” Reid said.

Once Reid’s plan is blocked in the post-midnight Senate vote, Reid and McConnell are expected to try to come up with a compromise plan that could pass both the Senate and the House before the federal government starts to default on its obligations Tuesday.

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