In Washington, too often major initiatives are pushed forward by party leaders with little input from the rank and file. Both parties are guilty of this. But the new leadership in the House of Representatives just took it to the next level with a spending bill that will have serious, negative consequences for Maine.
The bill, technically known as a continuing resolution (CR), will fund federal government operations through the end of the fiscal year. This bill is at the center of the much hyped government shutdown discussion. If there is no agreement on funding federal agencies, a shutdown will be the only option.
But a shutdown is not something that's abstract - it will affect millions of Americans. Reaching a deal between the House and Senate on a final spending bill is going to require some give and take. Unfortunately, in the lead up to the House consideration of the CR, there was little of that. No committees held hearings on it. Instead, congressional leaders opted for writing the bill behind closed doors before they sent it to the full House for a vote.
As members of Congress worked to make sense of the bill and how it would impact their constituents, it became quite apparent that little thought was put into the cuts contained in the bill itself. Politics seems to be the name of the game in Washington right now, which has all but taken the place of thoughtful discussion, debate and negotiation. And it's sad, because there is a lot that Democrats and Republicans can agree on when it comes to reducing our deficits and making targeted investments in job creation.
One example of this bipartisanship was on display during consideration of the bill on the House floor. The CR slashed funding for the Economic Development Administration (EDA) - the one program in the federal government whose singular focus is job creation. On this issue, a majority of the House agreed that it was not a smart thing to be cutting and supported my amendment to restore EDA's funding. In fact, it passed by a wide bipartisan vote of 305-127. And it's no wonder - EDA funded projects directly led to the creation of approximately 200,000 jobs nationwide from 2004 to 2008. And in Maine, EDA investments have created 2,539 jobs and retained 962 since 2006.
But while we took a step forward and avoided massive cuts to a proven job creator like the EDA, we also took multiple steps back in the overall bill. One key example of this was how the CR treated investments in transportation and infrastructure. Among other things, the CR would eliminate $600 million from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which makes targeted investments nationwide to promote job creation through infrastructure improvements.
The TIGER program has a very real and direct impact on our economy in Maine. Last year, two important local projects were awarded funding through the program. One would help replace Memorial Bridge in Kittery. The other would provide $10.5 million to improve the freight rail line in Aroostook and northern Penobscot counties in the wake of abandonment by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. Taking away this funding could put our efforts to save the freight rail line in jeopardy, which would have a terrible economic ripple effect in the communities that rely on it.
A lot of people in Maine thought these projects were a done deal. But because the funding was awarded and not technically "obligated" by the federal agency yet, it remained fair game for budget reductions this year. Thankfully, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recognized that the rail project is a critical investment and was able to work with the Maine Department of Transportation to ensure that these funds will not be rescinded even if the legislative language ultimately becomes law. The fact that this project's funding was even threatened highlights the harmful policies contained in the bill.
Unfortunately, there is more bad news for Maine. The bill terminates the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) - the only coordinated agency whose sole purpose is to promote the economic development of northern New England states. I worked to pass the NBRC into law and just last year it awarded its first investments in Maine, including an important expansion of the Port of Eastport. The CR also cut LIHEAP, Pell grants for thousands of Maine students and funding for Maine's community health centers, which could cut off health care access to almost 34,000 people across our state.
We must cut spending to get our fiscal house in order. But this bill went about it the wrong way. A recent independent economic analysis found that the CR as currently written would reduce U.S. economic growth by 1.5 to 2 percentage points in the second and third quarters of this year. This would deal a substantial blow to our fragile economic recovery at a time we can least afford it.
When I consider how to vote on a bill the first thing I ask myself is whether or not it is a good bill for Maine. On balance, this bill was not and I voted against it. It's not that I oppose spending reductions, it's just that I didn't support the way this bill did it. In fact, I supported substantial deficit reduction that went beyond the $60 billion in cuts contained in the underlying bill. I voted to pass amendments that cut an additional $3 billion, including one that eliminates $450 million for the Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine program.
At the end of the day, we have to cut spending in a strategic way with a particular focus on how it will affect the families and the businesses that we rely on to further our economic recovery. We need to reform and cut programs to make government more efficient, but we can't afford to abandon investments we know will have a direct and positive impact on job retention and creation. This bill just didn't do that.
Representative Mike Michaud