WASHINGTON — Three high profile Maine issues are addressed in a broad 2012 spending bill approved by the House and Senate on Thursday afternoon.

Among them, a provision co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, keeping potatoes on the plate as part of the federal school lunch program.

Also in the bill is another provision co-authored by Collins allowing trucks weighing up to 100,000 pounds back on all Maine’s interstates for the next 20 years. Amtrak funding in the bill will the Downeaster route between Portland and Boston chugging down the track.

Collins helped remove a deep cut to Amtrak’s budget backed by House Republicans — and the elimination of allowing federal funding to go to state-supported routes like the Downeaster — in her role as the top Republican on the Senate transportation appropriations subcommittee.

Also backing the Amtrak funding was Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who said that, “The Downeaster is a critical economic engine in our state with more than a half million passengers this year alone.”

The potato battle was over proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture restrictions on servings of starchy vegetables that threatened to drastically reduce the use of potatoes, a major Maine crop, in federal school lunches and breakfasts.

Collins, and allies including Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado and Snowe, fought to keep potatoes on the menu without restrictions.

Collins co-authored the truck weight provision with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. It gives Maine and Vermont exemptions for heavier trucks to get off the side roads and back on Maine’s interstates. Currently, the heavier trucks can only use the Maine Turnpike, so they must get off the highway at West Gardiner, just south of Augusta. A number of states already have exemptions.

Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District also backed the potato and truck provisions and maintaining Downeaster funding.

The bill, which passed the House 298-121, was the final approval for 2012 federal spending for several federal departments and agencies, including agriculture and transportation. It also keeps the rest of the federal government running through Dec. 16, since the 2012 fiscal year began Oct. 1, avoiding a government shutdown Friday.

The Senate approved the measure 70-30.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]


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