WASHINGTON — Friday’s House vote to keep government offices open while defunding Obamacare was another move in a high-stakes political chess match that could end with a government shutdown.

But it also puts Senate Republicans in an uncomfortable situation. An email blast late Friday afternoon targeting Maine Sen. Susan Collins illustrates the pressure being applied on Senate Republicans by some conservative groups ahead of the vote.

Americans for Limited Government warned Collins that “if you vote to fund Obamacare via the continuing resolution, you will own the health care law.”

“The American people will make no distinction between those who are overtly in favor of the health care law, and those who obstructed the only plan that might have gotten rid of it,” said the group’s president, Nathan Mehrens. “That is the choice facing every senator. That is the political reality.”

A recent poll, however, seems to undermine that argument. While 52 percent of the participants in the Washington Post/ABC News poll disapproved of Obamacare, only 27 percent supported shutting down government over the issue.

Collins, who is up for re-election next year, voted against Obamacare in 2009 and has voted several times to repeal the law.

Democrats would almost certainly portray any effort to keep the Obamacare defunding language in the bill as moving the country closer to a government shutdown.

Collins indicated again Friday that while she believes Obamacare will lead to higher taxes, fewer insurance choices and higher costs, she disagrees with linking the issue to the budget.

“The fact is, however, neither the current Senate, which is controlled by the Democrats, nor the president, will ever agree to repeal this law,” Collins said in a statement.

“While I will look closely at the House proposal when it comes before the Senate next week, ultimately, it will not be realistic to link essential government programs, such as Medicare for our seniors or paychecks for our troops — many of whom are still serving in harm’s way — to defunding Obamacare. A government shutdown would hurt many Americans and is no way to govern.”

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who supports Obamacare, called the situation “a mess.”

“It’s very disappointing and there really is no excuse for it,” King said in his weekly video recapping the week’s events. “And I think you have to focus on the fact that there is this small group of people who not only don’t want to fund Obamacare, they don’t want the government to work and to them a shutdown is success.”

Both of Maine’s U.S. House members — Democrats Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District — voted against the House bill.

York River study requested

King and Pingree continue to push for a multiyear study to determine whether the York River should be included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

King introduced a bill last week seeking congressional authorization of a study that would determine whether the 11-mile river, which flows from Eliot to York Harbor, would qualify for one of three designations under the National Park Service program: wild, scenic or recreational.

Established in 1968, the program aims to protect free-flowing rivers that are deemed to have “outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values.”

A designation can lead to additional federal funding for projects such as habitat restoration but could also subject proposals for dams or dredging to additional scrutiny.

Designation does not prohibit development along the river corridor or give the federal government control over private property.

Pingree introduced an identical bill two years ago that passed the House but died for lack of action in the Senate. She reintroduced the bill earlier this year.

“The York River not only holds tremendous environmental value to the surrounding towns and communities, but it’s also an economic anchor for them with commercial fishermen, hunters, and recreational boaters all taking advantage of the river’s unique qualities,” King said in a statement. “This bill, with community support, could result in a special designation that would help preserve the river and its natural benefits through critical federal investments.”

More than 200 rivers nationwide — totaling more than 12,500 miles — are protected under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

The Allagash River is the only designated river in Maine.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority shareowner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

Political leaders to speak at USM

Last week, the University of Southern Maine launched an eight-week-long free lecture series titled “Politics Then and Now, In Maine and the Nation” that will feature prominent Maine politicians.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell will speak at 4 p.m. Thursday on USM’s Portland campus in the Hannaford Lecture Hall at the Abromsom Center. Former 1st District U.S. Rep. Tom Allen kicked off the series last week.

Here’s the lineup of other speakers:

Oct. 3: Former Maine Gov. Kenneth Curtis (4 p.m. in Wishcamper Center, Lee Community Hall)

Oct. 10: Former Maine Senate President Libby Mitchell (4 p.m. in Wishcamper Center, Lee Community Hall)

Oct. 17: U.S. Sen. Angus King (4 p.m. in Abromson Center, Hannaford Lecture Hall)

Oct. 24: Former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe (4 p.m. in Abromsom Center, Hannaford Lecture Hall)

Oct. 31: Former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. (4 p.m. in Abromsom Center, Hannaford Lecture Hall)

Nov. 7: Panel discussion featuring former state Sen. Cynthia Dill, Maine House Republican leader Kenneth Fredette and University of Maine political scientist Amy Fried (4 p.m. in Wishcamper Center, Lee Community Hall)

Kevin Miller — (207) 317-6256
kmiller@mainetoday.com