Susan Collins to meet with Obama’s Supreme Court nominee today

Good morning from Augusta, where millions of dollars are on the line in the form of a new spending bill that was approved Monday by the Appropriations Committee.

The combined $18 million spending plan, which includes about $11 million in General Fund money plus matching funds, could have a short life. Like last year with the biennial state budget, the House Republican caucus appears to be against the budget, with Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport and all four House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee against the deal. If the rest of the caucus sticks together, they could kill the bill sometime after 5 p.m. today, which is when the House intends to debate the spending plan.

Democrats and Senate Republicans, as they were last year, could unite in support of the bill but as an emergency measure — which means it would go into effect immediately — it needs a two-thirds majority vote. That means support will be needed from some Republicans in the House, who so far are advocating to put every penny of the current $55 million revenue surplus in the rainy day fund.

LD 1606, the bill that the budget deal will be contained within, has not yet been updated on the Legislature’s website, which means you and lawmakers can’t see yet what’s in it. There are provisions to ease student debt and give raises to state-level law enforcement officers, employees at Maine’s two publicly funded psychiatric hospitals and service providers who serve senior citizens and adults with disabilities.

Last year, budget negotiations had the threat of a government shutdown looming over them. This year, there’s not that kind of pressure, meaning the budget bill will live or die on its merits. Democrats are already calling on Mainers to pressure Republicans into supporting it.

“We want to invite all state law enforcement, Riverview workers and direct care workers to come to the State House tomorrow evening,” wrote House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe on his Facebook page. “Come watch the budget vote and tell us why it matters to you.”

Republican Gov. Paul LePage and some House Republicans say that the money for law-enforcement raises can be found in the existing budget and that there is no emergency requiring this Legislature to approve any more spending. — Christopher Cousins

Democratic senator to be sworn in today — supposedly

Last week, as you know, Gov. Paul LePage expressed his anger at Democrats for voting against his nominee for the Unemployment Insurance Commission with a last-minute cancellation of a swearing-in ceremony for Susan Deschambault, a Democrat who won the Biddeford-area District 32 Senate seat in a special election a week ago.

LePage’s action angered Democrats and — again — thrust the governor into national headlines. He said he’d wait the full five days allowed him under the Maine Constitution, seizing on a provision that allows losing candidates that amount of time to request a recount. The five days expires today and Democratic staffers said Monday that the swearing-in is scheduled for 4:45 p.m. today.

But as we’ve learned, don’t count on it until it actually happens. — Christopher Cousins

Collins to meet with Obama’s Supreme Court nominee today

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins continues to break with most other Republican senators about President Barack Obama’s choice to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. While many Republicans say they won’t entertain any of the lame-duck president’s choices for the nation’s highest court, Collins has said she’ll consider any nominees.

Whether that translates into Collins actually voting for Obama’s nominee — Chief Judge Merrick Garland — remains to be seen. After all, that’s when Collins support or lack of it really counts. And it remains as question as to whether Senate leaders will allow a confirmation vote at all.

Collins and Garland are scheduled for a face-to-face meeting today in Washington, at 11 a.m. this morning. Collins has scheduled a press conference following the meeting, which means you’ll be reading more about this by day’s end. — Christopher Cousins 

Quick hits

  • The primary election in the District 32 Senate seat — you know, the Biddeford-area seat that Gov. LePage has drawn so much attention to by delaying the swearing-in of its rightful occupant — is set. Democrat Joanne Twomey will vie for the seat against fellow Democrat in the June 14 primary. Some of the signatures on Twomey’s candidate petition were challenged, but Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap ruled Monday that they are valid. The District 32 seat was vacated earlier this year by Democrat David Dutremble, who resigned.
  • The national progressive group has stepped into the debate about the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ proposal to change eligibility criteria for what is known as Section 17 Medicaid services, which provide intensive case management to adults with autism and other disabilities. The rule change attracted more than 300 people to a public hearing on Friday and is the subject of a work session by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee this afternoon. It is also the subject of a petition that has garnered more than 4,600 online signatures.
  • Alexander Willette is out of the Legislature, but not out of politics. Willette, the former assistant House Republican leader from Aroostook County who last year became an assistant district attorney in Sagadahoc County, announced Monday that he is running to remain in his seat at one of Maine’s two representatives on the Republican National Committee. Willette has been on the committee since 2013.

Reading list

You never know what will happen

Maybe you read yesterday about an automobile accident in Bath, where a mother from Windham and her 12-year-old son plummeted about 30 feet from an overpass known as the viaduct and landed upside down on a truck below.

The mother and son were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries and the driver of the truck was not hurt. Obviously, the outcome of this accident could have been much worse.

I drive over the viaduct on a nearly daily basis, and so does the rest of my family. I went across again last night. There were orange traffic barrels blocking the area where the woman’s SUV sheared away a guardrail. As I drove by, I imagined being inside that vehicle for the two or three seconds it was airborn. For a second, and thankfully only in my imagination, I sensed the horror. It was enough to bring tears and force me to pull over.

Hug your loved ones the next time you have a chance. There will be no soundtrack today; just a moment of silence for us all to count our blessings. — Christopher Cousins

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.