Poliquin defends votes on austere GOP budget bills, touts constitutional amendment

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine. BDN file photo by Gabor Degre.

Bruce Poliquin, Maine’s freshman 2nd District congressman, voted on the side of austerity Wednesday evening when he cast his support behind the so-called Price 1 and Price 2 budget bills.

The votes spurred Democrats to call Poliquin a “one-term wonder” and a rubber stamp for GOP policies that would slash social safety nets and curtail programs that help the middle class. Poliquin said his votes reflect the fiscally conservative attitudes of the people who put him in office.

Presented by Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, who is the chairman of the Budget Committee in the Republican-controlled House, the budget proposals passed Wednesday in the lower chamber have no chance of making it past President Barack Obama and given the balance of power in the Senate, no chance of surviving a veto.

The Price budgets cut $5 trillion in spending over the next 10 years, much of it in Medicaid, food stamps and other welfare programs. It calls for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and creates a voucher system for Medicare. Those items are non-starters for Democrats, but Poliquin said the proposal counterbalances Obama’s budget proposal, which includes tax increases and is a non-starter for Republicans.

Sound familiar? That’s because it is.

Still, Poliquin is hopeful that whatever changes are made during negotiations, a provision in the budget bills that calls for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution survives. In an interview with the BDN on Wednesday evening, he predicted that for the first time in years, both the House and the Senate will pass an omnibus federal budget.

“I do think the probability is very high that the legislative branch will put a budget on the president’s desk,” said Poliquin.

The reaction from Democrats at the state and federal level was swift and loud. Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett said the proposals endorsed by Poliquin would decimate crucial supports that help families buy homes, pay for college and retire comfortably.

“The GOP’s budget would be devastating to middle-class families,” Bartlett said in a news release.

This kind of talk is what we’ve come to expect from Congress and with both sides inserting so many poison pills in their spending proposals, there’s little hope for an end to last-minute budget patches with government closure always looming around the corner.

What could be interesting is the possibility of a balanced budget amendment, which is as likely now as it has been in years. Not only are there more Republicans in Congress, there are has been a surge of them at the state level. It takes agreement from 38 state legislatures to ratify a constitutional amendment and to date, 26 have already enacted resolutions. Proponents of the amendment are targeting 12 states that are under Republican control and two states, including Kentucky and Maine, whose legislatures are under split control.

In fact, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is kicking the tires on a 2016 presidential run, is visiting the Maine State House on Thursday to advocate for a balanced budget amendment with Gov. Paul LePage. Kasich and LePage are scheduled to appear together at a noontime press conference in LePage’s cabinet room.

Poliquin’s relentless focus on a constitutional balanced budget amendment — including sponsoring a bill in favor of one on his 2nd day in Congress — is a signal that he thinks 2015 is the year for Maine to follow suit.

“This will be one the most important things we can do for the financial stability of our country,” he said.

If it happens, it will be over a chorus of protests from people who say such an amendment would amount to an auto-slasher with little regard for what services are cut. There’s another faction that argues that such an amendment wouldn’t be necessary if Congress and the president would do their jobs and enact balanced budget bills in the first place.

Imagine that.



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.