A $2.2 trillion emergency relief bill secured the unanimous support of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday and appears to have the backing of nearly every member of the U.S. House as well.

But Republican Eric Brakey of Auburn, who hopes to represent Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, said Thursday that he opposes this “bailout Christmas tree filled with presents for the special interests” that he considers “a rotten deal for the American people.”

He detests it so much that if he held the seat now, he said he would force congressional leaders to call House members back to Capitol Hill to cast a yes or no vote on the bill rather than allowing it to proceed on a voice vote that requires the presence of only a few leaders.

Adrienne Bennett, left, Eric Brakey and Dale Crafts. File photos

The two GOP challengers that Brakey faces in a June 9 primary – Adrienne Bennett of Bangor and Dale Crafts of Lisbon – said Americans need swift relief from the economic crisis caused by a potentially deadly virus that has forced businesses to close across the nation.

The first-term Democrat who holds the seat, Jared Golden of Lewiston, also backs the compromise package that Brakey is against.

“Working Americans with no income need financial assistance now,” Bennett said, adding that she stands with President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, in endorsing the bill.

Crafts said the bill “takes the necessary steps to help move toward stabilizing our economy and ensuring small businesses across Maine and America are still open for business when we defeat this invisible enemy. These steps are crucial to ensure that we do not repeat the collapse of 2008.”

The bill, the largest spending package in American history, would create a large loan program to help businesses large and small, pump up the unemployment insurance program, direct money to hospitals and public health, and send $1,200 or more to nearly every American household within a few weeks.

“As our economic activity shuts down to slow the spread and protect our most vulnerable, we must provide direct financial assistance to Americans,” Bennett said.

Brakey said he believes Americans deserve relief, but he rejects the compromise that Republican and Democratic leaders hashed out in recent days.

He said that borrowing $2.2 trillion to pay for the proposals means, ultimately, that it “really coming from the very people we’re bailing out.”

“It is paid for by stealing from our retirements with inflation and the futures of our children with debt,” Brakey said. “A $1,200 check in the mail doesn’t even begin to cover the real costs we will all be forced to pay.”

Most of the money, he said, is going “to well-connected big corporations and special interests.”

Brakey said a better answer would be to tie the spending to future savings by agreeing simultaneously to bring troops home from overseas and slash the federal bureaucracy.

He said he also favors “a suspension of all payroll and income taxes for the duration of this emergency,” an idea Bennett said wouldn’t help people who are out of work now.

“A payroll tax cut doesn’t help anyone whose business is closed or whose job is furloughed,” she said. “Direct financial assistance is necessary and it helps.”

Brakey, a former state senator who lost a U.S. Senate race in 2018, said he’s worried that borrowing so much is “a recipe for inflation,” pushing up prices so much that it winds up hurting people more than it helps them.

Crafts, a self-described fiscal conservative, said Brakey is once again citing “just a large group of political keywords without actual reality.”

Bennett, who also calls herself a fiscal conservative, said that “now is not the time for complex policy debates.”

“Career politicians and those who have never had to rely on their paycheck to provide for their families don’t operate in reality,” she said. “Those of us who have worked hard our whole lives to pay our bills and put food on the table know what it means when there is a disruption.”

In a crisis like the one the nation faces, she said, “where able-bodied Americans are ordered not to work to protect public safety, we must make sure we take care of our own people and the fastest way to do that is direct financial assistance.”

Until they can return to work, Bennett said, “We need to ensure their basic financial stability in the interim to keep a roof over Americans’ heads and keep food on their tables. It’s common sense.”

Brakey said the relief measure is flawed in many ways, including its willingness to bail out big businesses.

He said that as a firm believer in the free market, he doesn’t think taxpayers should bail out companies that didn’t have the foresight to put aside cash for a rainy day.

Brakey said the bailouts in 2008 and 2009 after the last recession helped convince companies that they could safely pocket their profits and count on the public to absorb any losses in a sharp economic downturn.

That belief, he said, caused them “to make riskier decisions” than they would have otherwise, including their widespread tendency to buy back stock in recent years instead of investing or saving the money they made.

Brakey said his position on the relief package meshes well with U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican who opposes the bill and may force his colleagues to return to Washington to cast votes on it this weekend.

Brakey said he would insist on the House coming back into full session because it would be “grossly irresponsible” to allow such a large spending measure to become law without requiring elected representatives to endorse or oppose it with a formal roll call vote.

Crafts said, though, that the Senate put the usual politics aside to back the bill unanimously because senators “understand the lasting impact that will be felt if we do not provide support to American workers, families and businesses.”

“As President Trump has said, I believe that when we overcome this as a nation, our economy will bounce back to record-setting growth,” he said. “America’s strength is built on our ability to come together, put politics aside and find solutions for the needs we face.”

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