PORTLAND — One of Maine’s most prominent Democrats joined with one of its top Republicans on Thursday to call for a bipartisan solution to the nation’s debt crisis.

Former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and former Republican state Senate President Rick Bennett launched the Maine chapter of the national group Campaign to Fix the Debt.

Baldacci and Bennett, who opposed each other in a race for Congress in 1994, spoke at a news conference in Portland about the need for a long-term compromise in Washington to avoid automatic spending cuts and tax increases that could send the economy back into a recession.

“In Maine, we know how to set aside political differences to solve our big challenges. We’re here to encourage Congress in Washington to do the same about the debt in their next session,” Baldacci said.

Bennett said the uncertainty caused by the debt crisis is already keeping businesses from investing and creating jobs.

“There’s an immense amount of capital sitting on the sidelines because of the … uncertainty,” he said. “The debt is not an issue in my view, it is the issue in America today.”

Chris Claudio, CEO of WinXnet, a Portland-based information technology company, also attended the news conference and called the debt “a ticking time bomb for every business owner in America.”

He said he would like to expand, but is reluctant to invest until Congress tackles the debt crisis.

Fix the Debt is a national nonprofit founded by former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. They led the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, which proposed $4 trillion worth of spending cuts and tax increases.

Baldacci and Bennett have volunteered to be co-chairs of the Maine chapter. They plan to hold a series of town hall meetings around the state in December to encourage Maine’s congressional delegation and others in Congress to put aside party politics and solve the problem.

The organization also is promoting an online petition at www.fixthedebt.org.

The national debt stands at more than $16 trillion. It was $4.7 trillion in 1994, when Baldacci defeated Bennett in a close race for the 2nd District congressional seat.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

jrichardson@pressherald.com