WASHINGTON — Former Gov. John Baldacci was walking the corridors of Capitol Hill once again last week along with former Maine Senate President Rick Bennett as part of a delegation of Mainers pushing for action on the federal debt.
Baldacci and Bennett — a Democrat and a Republican who ran against each other for Congress — are co-chairmen of the Fix the Debt campaign in Maine. On Wednesday, they met with members of Maine’s congressional delegation, their staffers and others in Washington as part of a “Fix the Debt Day of Action in Washington.”
“I think the message that Rick and I are trying to send … is (lawmakers) need to come together on this issue to build common solutions that are in the country’s best interests,” said Baldacci, who served eight years in Congress before being elected twice to the Blaine House.
“You have short-term thinking that prevails in Washington versus the long-term think that this requires,” said Bennett, an Oxford resident who on Saturday was elected chairman of the Maine Republican Party.
Fix the Debt is a nonpartisan coalition led by high-profile business executives and former elected officials pushing for more comprehensive spending and entitlement reforms to address the $16 trillion debt. The group has its critics, however, most notably among progressives who believe the big-money players in the organization are using it as a way to slash Medicare and Social Security benefits.
Although the federal deficit is mentioned frequently around the Capitol, there’s not much of substance happening publicly to address it. The automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration” have reduced the deficit — helping the U.S. credit rating earn an a boost last week from Moody’s — but most people agree that indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts are not the wisest way to reduce federal spending.
Bennett and Baldacci were joined by a few “regular” Mainers in D.C.
Mark Gracyk is a Colby College senior who is launching a campus chapter of a group called “The Can Kicks Back,” a pun on Washington lawmakers’ favorite slogan (and seemingly the official sport of Congress) of “kicking the can down the road.”
“We are trying to send a message that young people are aware that the debt is an issue and that young people are concerned about it,” Gracyk said.
Nicholas Dambrie, who does real estate in Portland, said Maine’s housing market is “bumping along the bottom now” and that every one-half percent increase in interest rates reduces a person’s buying power by $30,000 to $40,000.
Jean Maginnis with the Maine Center for Creativity said that with the high debt-to-income ratio, there is not enough investment in the “creative industries.”
2nd District money race
The money race for the governor’s mansion received quite a bit of attention last week.
However, campaign finance filings show that at least one aspirant for U.S. Rep Mike Michaud’s job — should the 2nd District Democrat officially join the gubernatorial race, as expected — already is busy raising money for her campaign.
Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, reported raising $67,650 during the second half of June, according to campaign finance filings with the Federal Election Commission. Notable names among the donors to Cain include former Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree, of North Haven ($500); Adam and Diana Lee, of Lee Auto Mall (combined $5,200); former University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude ($250); lobbyist Jim Mitchell, of Augusta ($2,600); and former Baldacci administration Commissioner Ryan Lowe ($250).
Neither of Cain’s declared potential rivals in the 2nd District race — Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson, of Allagash and Republican Rep. Alex Willette, of Presque Isle — had filed campaign finance reports with the FEC. Both Willette and Jackson formally declared their candidacy July 1, one day after the cut-off for reporting money raised or spent on a campaign.
Alden Smith, a self-described student from Sangerville, also has filed candidacy paperwork with the FEC to run as a Democrat for Michaud’s seat. Smith also reported loaning himself $10,000 for his campaign.
No Labels, plenty of heat
Michaud and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, were among nearly 70 members of Congress who unveiled a bipartisan package of legislation during an event that had plenty of heat — temperature-wise, that is, not rhetorically speaking.
Michaud and King are members of the No Labels group’s Problem Solvers club, which bills itself as a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents willing to work together on major issues. The group gathered for an ill-timed news conference Thursday in the sun in front of the Capitol, when temperatures were in the upper 90s but the oppressive humidity made it feel like triple digits.
The legislative package announced Thursday included, among other things, applying a “No Budget, No Pay Act” that would withhold lawmakers’ paychecks unless they pass both budget and spending bills on time, a bill to cut federal agency travel by 50 percent and require video conferencing, and King’s proposal for a biennial — or two-year — budgeting system for the federal government (as used by Maine and other states).
Here are a few things coming up in Washington this week that might be of interest to Mainers:
* Student loans: The Senate is expected to consider a bill, co-negotiated by King and several Democrats and Republicans, that would restructure the entire way interest rates are calculated on federal student loans. The new system — which would result in lower rates for students this fall but could result in higher rates down the road — would tie rates to the market rather than allow Congress to set them. Rates would be capped, however, to prevent large spikes.
* Fisheries policy: New England fishermen and their advocates will be in Washington on Tuesday to discuss their views on the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the overarching federal law governing commercial fisheries. The law is credited widely with helping restore many fish stocks, but some fishermen view it as too inflexible and in need of revamping.
Kevin Miller — 317-6256