Conservative groups, LePage push GOP lawmakers to hold line on budget

Pressure on Republican lawmakers to hold the line on budget negotiations is amping up.

There’s precious little time left to strike a deal. A tentative path forward was unveiled earlier this week by Senate Republicans and Democratic leaders in both chambers. But that path appears to have been blocked by GOP representatives in the House, who oppose the deal because it doesn’t include income tax cuts or welfare reform.

On Friday, five conservative groups pushed GOP lawmakers to do just that. In a letter sent to all 20 Senate Republicans, the groups urged rejection of any budget without tax cuts or welfare reform.

The letter read, in part: “The people of Maine spoke clearly last November. They demand a smaller, more limited government that lives within its means, they demand spending discipline, and they demand wholesale reform to Maine’s broken welfare system. It is unconscionable that any deal would be considered that did not achieve those critical policy goals.”

The letter (click here to see the whole thing) was signed by Matthew Gagnon of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, Carol Weston of Americans for Prosperity Maine, Mary Adams of the Maine Center-Right Coalition, Robert Connor of Maine Taxpayers United and Susan Dench of the Informed Women’s Network. A similar note was sent to House Republicans. It was also signed by Gordon Colby, a leader in several loosely organized Tea Party groups.

Gov. Paul LePage is also backing House Republicans, who are increasingly strident that they will reject any deal that doesn’t include tax cuts. LePage attended their caucus meeting Friday morning to embolden the group to hold the line.

House GOP leadership on Friday began referring to its caucus as the “Gang of 68,” and Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, the caucus leader, has said his lawmakers are united against the deal reached by Senate Republicans and Democratic leaders.

Leaders from both parties are working behind the scenes to try to strike a revised deal that can win over the House GOP, but have so far failed.

The divided nature of the Legislature and the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to pass a budget, means that some level of bipartisan support is needed to get the deal done. Any of the four caucuses in the House and Senate can scuttle the deal, if it stays united.

Failure to enact a new budget by the end of the month will result in a government shutdown.

On Facebook, Rep. Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner — a member of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee — wrote that “no one wants a government shutdown, but [there] is some point where you have to stand up for what you believe in and do what is right.”

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.