Aides assist Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, center, as she returns to the Capitol after a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 24, 2021. Credit: Alex Brandon / AP

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’ve always had a woodchuck who eats our produce but this appears to be outright vandalism,” said Bangor community garden volunteer property manager Byron Hale, about the vandalism that has been occurring in the garden. “It’s aggravation and assault on us as gardeners that we’ve made a commitment to amend the soil, plant it and nurture the garden, without getting too wishy washy there.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

As congressional Democrats face a narrow path to pass a massive budget and a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a Maine senator says the bills remain on separate tracks. Senate Democrats announced earlier this week a $3.5 trillion budget proposal that appears to include a range of liberal priorities, including spending on climate initiatives, adding vision, dental and hearing coverage to Medicare and extending the recently expanded child tax credit.

Democrats will need to keep every one of their senators from Bernie Sanders of Vermont to Joe Manchin of West Virginia in line to advance the budget proposal, using the budget reconciliation process to bypass Republicans. But some have worried that the mere existence of the plan was stalling an earlier bipartisan effort to pass a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, which President Joe Biden negotiated with a group of senators including Susan Collins of Maine.

Biden has called for a two-track plan to advance both bills simultaneously, but the process has been tenuous from the start, when the Democratic president had to walk back on comments suggesting he would not sign the bipartisan bill unless the reconciliation bill also passed. The rollout of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan has reignited those tensions, as Republicans now have a tangible proposal to criticize. 

But Collins, a Republican, said the two shouldn’t be linked. In a statement late Wednesday, she said she thought Democrats’ budget proposal was an “enormous and unsustainable amount of spending” that could worsen inflation, but suggested it should not tank the bipartisan infrastructure deal that would be “particularly beneficial to Maine.”

“The bipartisan infrastructure package and the partisan $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill are entirely separate bills operating on two different tracks,” Collins said.

Collins’ support does not mean the bipartisan bill faces a clean path forward, since it’s not clear how many of her Republican colleagues feel the same way. At least 10 including her will have to stay on board with the $1.2 trillion plan for it to stand a chance of passage. 

If the bill fails, Democrats could integrate it with the budget reconciliation bill, which could come up for passage later this summer, though that would push up the price tag.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine Democrats advance $983M plan for COVID-19 aid after talks with GOP bog down,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “The budget committee’s vote paved the way for the Democratic proposal to pass the Legislature on Monday, but the lack of a bipartisan deal would prevent any package from going immediately into law after being signed by Gov. Janet Mills, meaning it will take at least three months for the money provided under the latest $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill to become available.”

— “Maine trial backlog to hinder Legislature’s ramped-up probe of child welfare system,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese, the state’s top homicide prosecutor, told the Legislature’s watchdog panel on Wednesday that the most recent child death cases may not conclude for up to two years from now. The state could share details with [Casey Family Services], but it could not give them to the panel or its investigators under confidentiality laws.”

— “CMP denies lawmakers’ claim that it can’t meet tree-cutting requirements on corridor project,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “A $1 billion hydropower corridor continues to draw controversy as legislators who visited the first segment of the project in a remote part of Somerset County said Wednesday that the utility in charge of it cannot meet permit requirements, a claim the company denied.”

Central Maine Power customers will see a rate hike next month. Bills are expected to go up by 11.5 percent to offset the costs of a federally mandated transmission tariff, though the Maine Public Utilities Commission voted to defer costs related to last years’ storms, saying the company would have to recoup those costs in upcoming years.

Browntail moths star in GOP’s latest anti-Golden ad

House Republicans’ campaign arm is going after the congressman over the failure of a widely opposed state bill to combat the pernicious insects in 2017. The National Republican Campaign Committee gave us an ad to remember on Thursday, hitting U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, in an ad complete with ominous music for the failure of a 2017 bill in the Legislature that  would have provided $500,000 to cities and towns dealing with infestations of browntail moths that have overtaken Maine this summer.

As assistant House majority leader at the time, Golden was the No. 4 Democrat in the chamber, but the bill barely registered on the legislative radar at the time. It was sponsored mostly by Democrats and opposed by the administration of then-Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican. All but one member of a legislative committee voted to kill it and it died without roll-call votes in both chambers, so no one lawmaker played a particularly big role in its death.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...