WASHINGTON — With top-level negotiations showing few signs of major progress, Maine Sen. Susan Collins said Sunday afternoon that she and other senators are discussing putting forward their own bipartisan proposal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.
Collins said while there is still time left for Democratic and Republican leadership to find a compromise, “it doesn’t sound to me like things are going very well.”
“I’ve talked with several Democrats as well as Republicans about forming a group and trying to come up with an alternative if, in fact, negotiations between the two leaders fail to produce a compromise. And there appears to be a lot of interest in that,” said Collins, a Republican.
“The American people deserve far better than this and I believe that a compromise could be reached. It seems to be that everybody’s got to buckle down and start bargaining in good faith,” Collins said while walking into a Republican caucus meeting at 3 p.m.
Congress has less than two days to come up with a plan to avert the tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. But despite the looming deadline, Senate Republican and Democratic leaders were still struggling to find agreement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was optimistic but realistic about bridging the divide between two sides. Republicans reportedly demanded that any deal include changes to the cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security.
“At this stage, I don’t have a counteroffer to make,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “Perhaps as the day wears on I will be able to.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., said he was “concerned with the lack of urgency here” and that there was too much at stake for political gamesmanship.
“There is no single issue that remains an impossible sticking point,” McConnell said in a floor speech. “The sticking point appears to be a willingness, an interest and frankly the courage to close the deal. I want everybody to know that I’m willing to get this done but I need a dance partner.”
Collins said the issues go far beyond the tax cuts that have been the predominant focal point and include more than $100 billion in across-the-board spending cuts that will kick in Jan. 2. Those cuts, known as sequestration, will have a major impact on Maine’s defense contracting industry and public schools, Collins said.
“I’m still hopeful that we will try to get an agreement,” Collins said.
Hopes of avoiding the sequestration cuts appear to be dwindling, however, as the two sides try to hammer out a deal on income tax rates for the wealthy, the estate tax, unemployment benefits and other issues.
Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, meanwhile, said the “failure to reconcile the differences and reach an accord, I think, underscores how broken the system is.” Snowe, a Republican, will serve her final days in the Senate this week after a 34-year career in Congress.
“I don’t think people really appreciate the degree to which this has instilled fear in many Americans, wondering what the future holds in terms of their tax increases,” said Snowe, a Republican.
Snowe reiterated that she could support a Democrat-backed bill to allow tax rates to increase on households earning more than $250,000 a year. President Obama has said that, absent a deal, he will push Reid to hold an up-or-down vote on that proposal.
“If it ends up being at $250,000 then I certainly would support it because, more than anything else, we need to be able to provide some sort of predictability to millions of Americans as they prepare to file their tax returns,” Snowe said.