A deal to break the debt ceiling standoff could be at hand, Maine’s Republican senators said Sunday.

Sen. Olympia Snowe said a compromise debt ceiling deal between Democrats and Republicans may be “imminent” and criticized as unnecessary a Senate vote today on a plan offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins said that she is “hopeful that we are very close to reaching a deal. It is unfortunate that it took so long to get this point. So many Americans are deeply worried.”

“That’s why I have been calling on congressional leaders and the president to reach a bipartisan compromise and not play this unfortunate game of brinksmanship,” Collins added.

Also speaking out this afternoon about the potential deal was Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents Maine’s 2nd District.

“The back and forth and political posturing has been difficult to watch and has already needlessly damaged our economy,” Michaud said. “But at the very least it’s good to see that leaders on both sides of the aisle recognize that we must avoid default and are working toward a solution. I look forward to closely reviewing the legislative text when it becomes available.”

Both Snowe and Collins joined nearly all Republicans in voting against a procedural motion to allow the Senate to proceed to a final vote on Reid’s plan to raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 trillion through 2012 in exchange for spending cuts of about that amount over the next decade. Only GOP Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts joined 49 Democrats in voting yes, but 60 votes were needed and three members of the Senate Democratic caucus also voted no.

Reid switched his vote to a no, also, for procedural reasons. That allowed him to re-open a so-called cloture vote later if a deal is reached. Lawmakers are grappling to reach a deal ahead of Tuesday, when the government would begin defaulting on its obligations if the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling is not raised.

Republicans said Reid’s plan included a budget gimmick of about a trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan war savings that already had been assured as the United States winds down its commitments in those countries.

For his part, Reid said Saturday Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans need to work with Democrats to find a resolution to the standoff.

“We’re willing to listen to Republican ideas to make this proposal better, but time is running short,” Reid said.

Snowe said in a statement this afternoon that a bipartisan deal may be close, even as she criticized Reid’s plan for raising the debt ceiling “without any ironclad assurance or mechanism (to ensure that) deficit reduction will be accomplished in a manner consistent with the needs of our country.” The Reid plan, Snowe added, contains “illusory savings and, according to CBO, it overestimates discretionary savings by $400 billion.”

Snowe said that, “Given the president has finally engaged in serious talks with congressional leadership and it appears a new plan is imminent, today’s vote was unnecessary. Congress should not send more, potentially negative messages at this very critical time.”

Snowe and Collins were among just four GOP senators who did not sign a letter from 43 Republican senators Saturday to Reid opposing Reid’s debt ceiling plan.

But the Maine Republicans said Saturday that didn’t mean they supported Reid’s plan.
Collins said Saturday she did not sign the letter because, “At this point, I do not think this letter is conducive to the bipartisan negotiations that must occur to avert the default and to bring about real cuts and budget reforms.”

But, “I do not support Senator Reid’s current plan,” Collins said. “It claims $1 trillion in illusory ‘savings’ for Iraq and Afghanistan which, because thankfully the wars are winding down, never would be spent.”
The potential deal taking shape, according to Capitol Hill sources, could include $1 trillion in immediate spending cuts, paired with about $1.8 trillion later. There apparently are no tax revenue increases in the deal.

Those later cuts, with the goal by the end of this year, could be arrived at by a special bipartisan deficit reduction committee and voted on by the House and Senate. If Congress fails to pass the cuts, lawmakers then would be required to take a vote on a sending a balanced budget amendment to the states for ratification, requiring a two-thirds vote by both chambers.

If the cuts are not made by either the Congress or through an approved balanced budget amendment, then an automatic deficit reduction trigger could kick in, causing across the board cuts that include defense spending and programs such as Medicare.

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