AUBURN — When they tangled in 1994, it wasn’t pretty.

At the time, Republican Rick Bennett complained of last-minute negative phone calls to voters. Democrat John Baldacci lamented TV ads that cast him in a less than flattering light.

In hindsight, on Thursday, Baldacci called it a “very spirited campaign” for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. He won.

If Baldacci and Bennett can now get along, the two told the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast at Lost Valley, so can politicians in Washington, D.C. And if Washington, D.C. can get along, those politicians can address the national debt.

The two men co-chair the Maine chapter of the national Fix The Debt campaign.

The country’s national debt stands at $16 trillion, according to Bennett. At the current rate, by 2050, one-third of federal spending will be on interest payments.

“It took 200 years to reach $1 trillion,” Bennett said. “We’re spending more than we’re taking in, and we’re doing it at an increasingly alarming rate.”

That sort of “fiscal mismanagement” wouldn’t be tolerated in someone’s home budget or business, he said.

Bennett, who lives in Oxford and is chairman of GMI Ratings, a global investment research firm, said the country needs to stop leaping from crisis to crisis and cited the recent sequestration as one example. Because of sequestration, Acadia National Park scaled back operations and saw 12,000 fewer visitors this April compared to last. That cost the Maine economy between $5 million and $12 million.

“We can’t cut and we can’t grow and we can’t tax our way out,” Bennett said, adding that it needs to be a mix of all three.

Baldacci, Maine’s former governor and a senior adviser in economic development and government relations at Pierce Atwood, said companies he talks to want to see a stable tax policy before making sizable investments.

“They don’t know where the future of the U.S. is going,” Baldacci said. This “year-to-year tax policy” isn’t working.

He said the debt has to be addressed for the sake of the U.S.’s leadership and world reputation.

Asked about curtailing international spending, Bennett said less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget goes to foreign aid and spending but, with 700 military bases around the world, it is something to look at.

“The question really is, are we overextended?” Bennett said. Given the risks and costs, his answer would be yes.

Fix the Debt is encouraging citizens to sign an online petition and offers advice such as how to contact your local Congressional delegation. So far, 353,218 people have signed, 1,716 of those from Maine.

Bennett called the next five months a critical period for change, a window of time before the start of the next campaign season and the politicking it brings.

“Our hope is that if people see two old political rivals (getting along) perhaps the gravity of our situation becomes clearer,” Bennett said.

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: