The following op-ed originally appeared in the the Downeast Coastal Press, a weekly newspaper based in Cutler, Maine.
By Rep. Larry Lockman
By the time this column appears in print, the 126th Maine Legislature of 2013-2014 will be in the home stretch toward statutory adjournment on April 16.
It’s crunch time in Augusta.
The House was in session just two days a week when we reconvened back in January. During these last three weeks before adjournment, the House will be in session Monday through Friday, with double sessions and evening sessions when needed.
As we wrap up our work, I am happy to report that the biggest and most important issue we faced when the 126th Legislature convened in January of last year was finally resolved. After much partisan wrangling and foot-dragging, we finally paid off nearly half a billion dollars of accumulated welfare debt left over from the previous administration.
For the first time in decades, Maine state government is no longer a deadbeat debtor. Gov. LePage deserves enormous credit for making this his top legislative priority and keeping his eyes on the prize: paying off the hospital debt and paying our bills on time going forward.
That massive debt was the result of the previous administration’s decision to expand Medicaid enrollment by lowering eligibility standards for coverage, and then failing to pay the hospital bills for the additional 140,000 non-elderly, non-disabled Maine people who signed up for medical welfare.
As I write this, we are considering another and much larger expansion of Medicaid enrollment under Obamacare. I am convinced this would be a huge mistake, and put us on the road to building another debt bomb that will eventually have to be defused by a future Legislature.
Simply put, we can fix what’s wrong with Maine’s health insurance market without chaining ourselves to the caboose of the Obamacare train wreck.
What’s especially disturbing about the debate on the pending Medicaid legislation is the feverish nastiness of some of the bill’s supporters. They have stooped to impugning the motives of opponents of welfare expansion. But it gets worse than that. The far-left Maine Peoples Alliance has initiated a campaign accusing opponents of Obamacare Medicaid expansion of being complicit in killing Maine people who will allegedly die if we don’t pass this bill.
The fact that their interpretation of the data is demonstrably incorrect and that even former Democratic Governor John Baldacci has condemned their tactic hasn’t stopped them.
But it gets even worse than that, if you can believe it.
One of the left-wing extremist online bulletin boards with a national audience posted an obscenity-laced death threat against a Republican member of the Maine Legislature, saying she needs a bullet in her head.
Here’s the problem: the lunatic fringe of the Democratic Party is now in the drivers’ seat from coast to coast. These hyper-partisans are making it increasingly difficult to have a civilized discussion on the most important issues of the day.
We are better than this. We can engage in spirited, robust debate without sinking to this level of malicious, vitriolic hate speech.
As we head into the home stretch at the Statehouse, I will do my best to raise the level of discourse during debates on these hugely important issues.
Lawrence E. Lockman, R-Amherst, represents House District 30 in the Maine Legislature, and serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development Committee.