Maine’s congressional delegation appeared to be falling along party lines Friday as the debate over national health care reform headed toward its conclusion.

Supporters and opponents of the legislation were keeping the pressure on, nonetheless.

Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd District, was still officially undecided on Friday, two days before the House of Representatives was scheduled to cast a historic vote on the reform bill that initially passed in the Senate in December.

Michaud, however, supported an earlier House version of the reforms and is considered a likely ‘yes’ vote this weekend.

“There were significant changes made to the bill, and I am continuing to assess the impacts on Maine businesses, providers and consumers,” Michaud said in a written statement Friday. “This is one of the most significant issues that Congress will consider, and I want to give it the serious consideration that it deserves.”

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s 1st District, has been a steadfast supporter of the reform, and was working to shore up Democratic support for the legislation on Friday, she said during a telephone interview.

“It doesn’t have everything that I want in it,” said Pingree, who favors a national public insurance option. “My colleagues in the House and I feel like we’ve negotiated the best bill we can get at this point.”

Pingree said she will continue to push for a public option, but the legislation will expand insurance coverage and lower costs for Mainers.

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins were once considered possible Republican supporters of a national health care reform bill, but now clearly oppose the pending legislation, along with every other Republican in Congress.

Snowe, part of a bipartisan group of six senators who negotiated reforms last year, criticized the process and the partisanship in a written statement Friday.

“Our work in the Group of Six produced a solid starting point for bipartisanship on this issue, yet, regrettably, the process and polarization of our parties has tragically plagued health care reform during this Congress,” she wrote.

Collins said in a written statement that she and other Republicans are eager to support alternative reforms and criticized Democrats for cutting off debate.

“We lost an opportunity to work together to write a bipartisan bill that would expand access, rein in the cost of health care, and improve quality,” she wrote. “It didn’t have to be this way.”

Maine groups that have been pushing for and against the legislation were not yet ready to give up Friday.

“We’re just continuing to encourage our folks to contact both of our (House representatives), but in particular we’re putting a lot of emphasis on Congressman Michaud,” said Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, which opposes the legislation. “He’s certainly in the ‘leans yes’ column, but we’ll know in a few days.”

The center sent more than 500 voice-mail messages from Maine voters to Pingree and Michaud on Friday, he said. The group also is helping to organize a “Hands Off Health Care” rally, set for 8:30 a.m. today in front of DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant on Commercial Street in Portland.

Maine Change That Works, which organized a large pro-reform rally in Portland on Thursday, also was keeping the pressure on the entire delegation, including Michaud.

“We’re going to continue trying to contact his office and let him know that the overwhelming majority of Maine people support health insurance reform,” said Greg Howard, the group’s communications director.

Michaud did take a stand against fellow Democrats on Thursday.

Pingree and 221 other House Democrats approved the use of a two-track process in which the House would accept the Senate-approved bill without an up-or-down vote, then vote on a separate bill that includes numerous amendments.

Michaud was one of 28 Democrats to oppose that process. He said Friday that he is frustrated about it and wants a standard up-or-down vote.

But he also said he will make a final yes-or-no decision “based solely on the substance.”

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]