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Democratic infighting over welfare expansion threatens hospital repayment

Donkey Fight

Donkey Fight

AUGUSTA – Democratic infighting continued at the State House on Wednesday as members of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee voted to peer pressure the Veterans and Legal Affairs (VLA) Committee to combine Gov. Paul R. LePage’s hospital repayment plan with a Medicaid expansion bill.

“In a 10-4 vote, the Majority of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services voted to strongly recommend that the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs include language directing the State of Maine to accept federal health care dollars in the committee bill to make a final payment to Maine’s hospitals,” said Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Lewiston) and Rep. Richard R. Farnsworth (D-Portland) in a joint letter to both VLA Committee co-chairs, Rep. Louis J. Luchini (D-Ellsworth) and Sen. John Tuttle (D-Sanford).

The “federal dollars” in question are provided under the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, to states that agree to expand Medicaid eligibility requirements. The federal government has promised to fund this expansion for ten years, but there is already wide-spread doubt about Uncle Sam’s ability to keep the promise.

The HHS vote reaffirms the position of Democratic leaders that any plan to repay the nearly $500 million hospital debt must be combined with Medicaid expansion, but runs contrary to the position of Sen. Tuttle, who last week said the Legislature should not combine the two bills. (Recommended: Democrats oppose Alfond-Eves on linking hospital debt, Medicaid expansion…)

State House sources said Tuttle was “upset” that his Democratic colleagues on the HHS Committee would recommend that the VLA Committee act in direct contradiction to his view.

The recommendation is without consequence and will serve only as Democratic peer pressure to walk the Party line. As one Republican staffer put it, “This recommendation might as well have come from the Marine Resources Committee.”

One Republican, Rep. Carol McElwee (R-Caribou), voted with Democrats. She issued a statement clarifying that she was voting in favor of Medicaid expansion, but not in favor of linking it with the liquor contract bill.

Gov. LePage introduced his plan to pay off the Medicaid debt using revenue from the liquor contract in January.

Democrats first attacked the governor’s bill, claiming it was unconstitutional. After the Democratic Attorney General blessed the governor’s use of revenue bonds taken against future liquor contract money, the Democrats introduced their own idea for the liquor contract.

The non-partisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review determined that the Democratic alternative to LePage’s – a bill from House Majority Leader Seth A. Berry (D-Bowdoinham) – would generate $32 million less for the State. That’s when the Democrats began accusing Republicans of playing Washington-style politics.

More recently, Senate President Justin L. Alfond (D-Portland) and House Speaker Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick) stormed out of LePage’s office after demanding Medicaid expansion and promising to hold hospital repayment hostage. (Recommended: Partisan politics stall hospital repayment…)

On Saturday, LePage spoke frankly about the political shenanigans surrounding a major initiative of his administration.

“President Alfond and Speaker Eves are preventing a vote on the hospital bill, knowing that what they are doing is wrong for Maine,” said LePage.

“They do not want to pay the hospitals,” he said.

S.E. Robinson
Maine Wire Reporter
srobinson@mainepolicy.org

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