AUGUSTA, Maine — The top priority for the final weeks of this congressional session is clear to Maine’s congressional delegation: Extend the tax cuts scheduled to end Dec. 31. But they all have other matters they want Congress to address before this session ends sometime in December.
“We must address the tax issues, that is first and foremost,” Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe said in an interview. “We can’t allow taxes to go up as we are trying to recover from the recession.”
A wide range of taxes, tax credits and tax breaks are scheduled to end the last day of December, and Snowe said the impact of not addressing them makes all other goals in the next few weeks pale by comparison.
“We must stay in session until we resolve the tax issues,” she said. But Snowe also said the “1099” issue related to the health reform law is also high on her list. That provision was added to improve compliance with the new law. It requires businesses to file a 1099 tax form identifying anyone to whom they pay $600 or more for merchandise in a year.
“This is going to be an excruciating burden for small businesses and individuals,” Snowe said. “I think that is a provision that needs to be repealed.”
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said the pilot truck-weight provisions allowing heavier trucks to use the interstate in Maine instead of state and local roads expire Dec. 17. She said while the Obama administration has indicated it supports making the change permanent, its passage is far from certain. She hopes to get at least an extension of the program to gather more data to prove it is a good idea.
“The initial data that we have are very favorable in terms of it improving fuel use, safety and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Collins said.
But she agreed with Snowe that addressing the tax measures must be the top priority even with the importance of the truck-weight issue to Maine.
Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud agreed. He said reaching an agreement on extending the tax cuts has to be at the top of the list, and he also agrees with Collins the truck-weight issue needs to be settled.
“If we can’t get a permanent change, we should at least get an extension,” he said. “I am working with other members of the Transportation Committee to get this done.”
Michaud said another issue he will push is overriding regulations adopted by the Veterans Affairs department affecting reimbursement rates to pay for disabled veterans at state veterans nursing homes. He said the rules are causing the homes to turn away veterans because they cannot afford to pay for their care at the rates set by the VA.
“This not only affects Maine,” he said. “This is a problem across the country and must be addressed.”
Michaud said the House Veterans Affairs Committee on which he serves has legislation ready on the matter, but the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has not considered legislation to address the problem.
Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree said she agrees with Snowe that Congress needs to stay in session until they deal with such “crucial” legislation as extension of the tax measures. But she said there are many other measures that Congress should consider, such as an extension of unemployment benefits before the session ends, and she is willing to work through the holidays to accomplish that goal.
“I am a co-sponsor of a bill that actually sends out a $250 payment to senior citizens,” she said. “Many seniors are very frustrated at the lack of a COLA [cost of living allowance] this year that is a cut basically in what people are getting in their checks.”
Pingree said another major problem was that none of the appropriations bills has cleared both houses of Congress. While the House has passed some, she said, the Senate has not passed a single spending measure.
“We should pass those, but we probably will have another continuing resolution,” she said.
Snowe agreed. She said the use of continuing resolutions has unintended consequences that can hurt programs depending on how agencies interpret the language of the measure. She said it is far better for Congress to do its job and pass budget bills that clearly spell out spending.