WASHINGTON — Members of Maine’s congressional delegation said Monday that they hope President Obama will lay out a concrete set of proposals Tuesday night for putting the nation’s economy on firmer ground and avoiding across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in next month.
Addressing Congress for the first time in his second term, Obama is expected to hit many of the themes heard during his re-election campaign, such as investing in infrastructure and renewable energy, protecting the middle class and collecting more taxes from the wealthy. But he is also expected to urge congressional action on gun control and immigration reform.
Sen. Susan Collins said she hopes the president will outline a plan for addressing the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt, which the Republican described as “unsustainable” and “the greatest threat to our nation’s economic recovery.”
Key to that will be avoiding the across-the-board sequestration cuts slated to take effect in March, absent an agreement between the White House and Congress, Collins said.
“I would like the president to outline a plan for avoiding the automatic, indiscriminate cuts set to take effect next month that would have devastating consequences for our national security and our economy,” Collins said in a written statement. “Sequestration would cause great harm to America’s safety in a dangerous world and Congress and the president need to set partisanship aside to resolve this issue.”
Attending his first State of the Union speech, and sitting next to Collins, will be Sen. Angus King, an independent.
“What I hope to hear is a concrete set of proposals for creating jobs,” King said. “We’ve got a lot of issues around here: deficits and the sequester and all of these other things. But the paramount issue is the economy. And I’m hoping the president will lay out a plan that we can all get behind to get this economy moving.”
King said he would not prejudge but added he hopes any plan would include a mix of tax reform, infrastructure investment and training initiatives, all within existing resources.
Rep. Chellie Pingree said she also expects the economy will be foremost in the president’s address, based on his comments to House Democrats last week, adding that she expects a “proactive agenda” on reducing the deficit.
But Pingree also expects to hear the president push for immigration reform, proposals to reduce gun violence and action on climate change, an issue that was largely missing during the president’s first term and the 2012 campaign.
“He made very clear that he is going to talk about climate change and energy policy, and that is a breath of fresh air,” she said. Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority shareowner of MaineToday Media, the publisher of the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald.
Rep. Mike Michaud’s speech wish list includes increased funding for the U.S. Economic Development Administration and enforcement of international trade laws. On the latter, Michaud reiterated concerns about a large financial package offered by the Canadian government to restart a Nova Scotia mill, which could affect paper mills in Maine and across the U.S.
Michaud said he would also like the president to address the health care needs of veterans.
“My hope is he will really focus on how we can improve not only access to care for veterans but also the backlog of claims,” said Michaud, who is the top-ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Obama is scheduled to deliver his State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m.
Kevin Miller — 317-6256
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