AUGUSTA – A top Democratic committee chair on Tuesday came out in opposition to the decision of Senate President Justin L. Alfond (D-Cumberland) and House Speaker Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick) to link Medicaid expansion to repaying the nearly half-a-billion dollar Medicaid debt owed to Maine’s hospitals.
The Democratic leaders in the 126th Legislature have had plenty of trouble keeping their caucus in line, and according to reporting from the Bangor Daily’s Matt Stone, a high-ranking Democratic committee chairman has said he opposes their decision to demand that Gov. Paul R. LePage’s hospital debt repayment bill be linked to a Democratic proposal to expand Medicaid.
Sen. John L. Tuttle, Jr. (D-York), Chairman of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, said Tuesday, “Medicaid expansion, I think, should be a separate issue… I think that we have to take care of the hospitals and take care of the liquor contract and then go to these other issues,” according to Stone.
Tuttle’s remarks follow last week’s Democratic press conference, in which President Alfond and Speaker Eves defended their decision to reject any hospital repayment plan that does not include an expansion of Maine’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Tuttle’s comments also continue a pattern of disorganization in the Democratic caucus, particularly when it comes to repaying the lingering Medicaid debt.
Gov. LePage introduced his proposal to pay nearly $500 million in Medicaid bills owed to Maine’s hospitals in January. Democrats initially rejected his proposal and introduced their own in the form of a bill from Sen. Seth Goodall (D-Richmond).
However, when an analysis by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review found that Goodall’s proposal would be a worse deal for Mainers – to the tune of $32 million – the bipartisan consensus was that LePage’s proposal was a good idea. (Even the left-leaning Lewiston Sun Journal newspaper published an editorial entitled, “LePage has better idea for liquor contract”.)
Alfond and Eves, loth to give LePage a victory, told the governor during an April 24 meeting that his hospital repayment bill would not receive a vote unless it was linked with Medicaid expansion. The Democratic leaders then stormed out on the governor. (Recommended: Alfond, Eves hold hospital repayment hostage for Medicaid expansion…)
The following day, Alfond walked back the demand during a radio interview, and, in a press conference last Tuesday, he refused to say whether Democrats would allow an up or down vote on the governor’s bill. “We’re keeping our options open,” said Alfond.
According to one State House source, Tuttle’s departure from Democratic leadership’s position is a small part of the growing discontent with Alfond and Eves’ mismanagement of the Legislature. The source said that while many Democrats are interested in passing good public policy, Alfond and Eves are focused on using the Legislature as a political tool to attack the governor.