U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine drew immediate criticism from challengers for his 2nd District seat by hailing House leaders’ decision to soon hold a vote on a balanced-budget amendment.

Poliquin, a Republican who is seeking a third term, has pushed for the measure since 2015 because of what he sees as a need “for our government to get our spending under control.”

“We need to reform how Congress operates in order to truly fix this enormous problem and I believe that starts” with a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget, Poliquin said in a prepared statement.

The lawmaker, who in recent months voted for a $1.5 trillion tax cut and a $1.3 trillion spending plan for the next fiscal year, said it would “force politicians in Washington to think more seriously about these fiscal decisions and force all members, from both political parties, to make the right decision.”

State Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat who is among those challenging Poliquin’s re-election bid, pointed out that the Republican lawmaker voted for measures that will add more than $1 trillion to the national debt.

“Don’t believe this hypocrisy from Congressman Poliquin,” Golden said. “He’s only pretending to worry about the debt today because he’s worried about his re-election in November.”

Dismissing opposition from Golden and others, Republican campaign consultant Brent Littlefield said Poliquin has long “faced political attacks, like those from his extreme opponents, which are baseless and false.”

The looming vote on the amendment, though, is widely seen as something of a charade.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement on Twitter that because the Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, they could balance the budget “if we were serious.”

“But instead of doing the real work, some will push this symbolic measure so they can feel good when they go home to face voters,” Corker said.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican who is the only Bates College graduate in Congress and who is the chief sponsor of the proposal, said that approving the measure would “finally bring discipline to federal spending and would benefit generations to come.”

Craig Olson, an Islesboro Democrat who hopes to unseat Poliquin this year, called Poliquin’s position “a laughable attempt to portray himself as a fiscal conservative well before the ink has even dried on his vote to increase the federal budget deficit” through the spending bill he voted for last month.

Olson said Poliquin would do better to offer bills “to reduce inflated military spending and tax breaks for Wall Street and using those savings to increase funding for pressing needs like funding for veterans,” education and infrastructure.

“To propose this after giving more than a trillion dollars of deficit spending to the rich and the corporations is like locking the bank after you stole all the money,” said Monroe builder Jonathan Fulford, another Democratic congressional contender.

He said Poliquin “wants to balance the budget on the backs of the people of Maine. The Republicans can’t wait to throw working people, students, and retirees under the bus by making health insurance unaffordable, saddling students with crippling debt, and stripping funds from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Shameless.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said Poliquin is “using the debt he created to feign interest in balancing the budget, but it’s really nothing more than a facade for him to work at cutting Mainers’ Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Littlefield said that Poliquin “has, and will, always work to protect Social Security and Medicare and protect and fight for the people of Maine. That’s why the Maine people see these false attacks for what they are – political opportunism – and they keep electing Congressman Poliquin.”

The Maine Republican Party also backed the congressman.

“We applaud Congressman Poliquin for taking a stand for a balanced budget and a sustainable future,” Garrett Murch, communications director for the party, said Friday.

“Bruce knows it has to be done in a responsible way, and it will take many years, but we cannot keep piling up debt forever and we cannot tax our way out of debt,” Murch said.

Littlefield said Poliquin “has a long record, going back to his time as Maine state treasurer, of working to cut government waste and inefficiency,” even taking on state officials who dined out at costly New York restaurants on the taxpayers’ dime.

He said a balanced-budget amendment would force congressional leaders from both parties “to start the budgeting process from a position of fiscal responsibility.”

Brendan Conley, Poliquin’s spokesman, said Friday that the lawmaker “strongly supports maintaining and strengthening Social Security and Medicare for those at or near retirement and in ensuring these incredibly important programs can continue to exist for future generations to come.”

“Government has a role to play in certain areas,” Conley said. “We just need to be smart about where our tax dollars are going. It’s past time Washington is forced to live within its means.”

Conley said Poliquin, who has pushed a balanced-budget amendment for years, considers the proposal “a tool which forces all members of Congress to be more careful and deliberative about where our tax dollars are going.”

Steve Collins can be contacted at:

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