Maine’s two members of the U.S. House split Thursday on budget legislation billed as a crucial step toward a major tax cut for American businesses and perhaps many families as well.

“This budget is the first step toward creating fairer and lower taxes for Maine families and for creating jobs and improving the economy,” U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a 2nd District Republican, said in a prepared statement.

He said he’s looking forward to working with colleagues from both parties to help the economy grow and create jobs in Maine. He said he also wants to help Mainers “bring home bigger paychecks.”

Poliquin backed the controversial measure that passed the House 216-212. No Democrats voted in favor and 20 GOP lawmakers opposed it, including many from states such as Maine that have high local and state taxes whose deductibility may be eliminated if a tax cut is approved this year.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, said that “by fast-tracking this budget, Republicans are trying to pull the wool over the eyes of working families.”

In a prepared statement, Pingree called the budget “a tax giveaway to those who already have plenty at the expense of those who are struggling to make ends meet.”

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She warned that the GOP budget would add $1.5 trillion to the national debt while cutting billions from Medicare, infrastructure projects, Pell Grants for low-income college students, Head Start and health care research.

Pingree said the Republicans are eyeing spending reductions “in order to give the wealthiest Americans massive tax cuts.”

“Republicans always claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, but raiding essential services and adding more than a trillion dollars to our national debt is flat out irresponsible,” she said. “I am disappointed by this process and voting no on this reckless budget.”

Concern about the deductibility of local and state taxes didn’t sway Poliquin to join a dozen GOP colleagues from high-tax states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, who opposed the measure.

Brendan Conley, Poliquin’s spokesman, said the congressman “is weighing all of the different elements of a tax reform proposal, including the idea of eliminating the state and local tax deductions, and looks forward to reviewing and working on its specifics in the coming weeks.”

The Tax Policy Center figured out this year that Mainers who file federal taxes with itemized deductions would lose an average of $1,839 annually if the deduction was eliminated.

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But experts also said that rate cuts and an increase in the standard deduction might more than offset the proposed change for many of them.

Moreover, they said, axing the deduction would hurt richer people far more than those with lower incomes since most Americans don’t itemize their deductions.

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett blasted Poliquin for casting “one of the deciding votes for a budget that ransacks Medicaid and Medicare, which tens of thousands of Mainers depend on, and it strikes at the heart of investments critical to Maine families, like those that support childhood and college education, home heating, medical research and infrastructure improvement – all while adding $1.5 trillion to the national debt and cutting taxes for the wealthiest.”

The measure adopted by the House would slow the growth of Medicare from a projected 7 percent annually during the next decade to a 6 percent yearly increase instead, according to the U.S. Senate Budget Committee’s Republican staff. Though it saves $480 million, the goal is primarily to extend the life of the Medicare trust fund.

The plan also counts on saving $1.5 billion during the next decade from projected increases in spending on Medicaid, Affordable Care Act subsidies, childhood health and other federal health care programs. But it doesn’t say what changes would be made to achieve the savings.

“This isn’t a budget that supports working families in the 2nd Congressional District,” Bartlett said in a prepared statement. “This is a budget that leaves them out to dry and lines the pockets of Poliquin’s wealthy campaign donors.”

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Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republicans, dismissed the Democrats’ claims as misleading.

“While Chairman Bartlett and the Maine Democratic Party issue statements full of dubious and inflammatory claims, Republicans are working to responsibly spend taxpayer dollars and deliver tax relief to hardworking Maine families and small businesses,” Savage said.

He said the proposal adopted by the House won’t change Medicare for Mainers who are retired or nearing retirement age. Medicaid, he said, “would be put on a sustainable path so it can continue to help those who truly need it: low-income families, the disabled, the elderly and children.”

He said the Democrats ought to take the time to understand what Congress is doing “before issuing statements trying to get the media to help them scare Maine’s seniors.”

Savage said, “The modern Maine Democratic Party” is “all attack and no substance or ideas. They say ‘no’ so much that the only things we know for sure they support are massive spending, unlimited immigration and sky-high taxes and national debt.”

Some Democrats, including Pingree, warned that the GOP budget bill would slice the allocation for low-income heating assistance in addition to its other cuts.

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But Poliquin, in a comment on Twitter, said that he is funding the program at this year’s level of $3.4 billion.

[email protected]

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree


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