WASHINGTON — Maine Gov. Paul LePage lashed out against President Obama’s health care initiative Monday, predicting the law “is going to put this country into a spiral” and that Obama “is going to ruin the American Dream as we know it.”
Speaking to several hundred business owners from across the country, LePage also once again blamed Maine’s high energy costs on the growing wind power industry in the state.
LePage, a Republican, said the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act — commonly referred to as “Obamacare” — would result in higher health care costs in Maine and is undercutting his own administration’s efforts to increase competition in the insurance market.
“I think the ACA is going to put this country into a spiral,” said LePage, one of three governors speaking as part of a U.S. Chamber of Commerce panel discussion. “I think the country is partly in a spiral now, but I think this president … is going to ruin the American Dream as we know it.
“And the reason why is the American Dream is based on earned success. You earn it,” LePage said. “Whereas he believes in learned dependency. He believes very, very strongly that every American’s American Dream is provided by the government. And it doesn’t work that way.”
The two other Republican governors on the panel — Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania — also had little positive to say about the health care law.
“I don’t see this surviving come Jan. 1, and I see the whole thing collapsing,” Corbett said of the insurance “marketplaces,” or exchanges, set up under the law.
Asked for a response to the governors’ comments, an official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cited several studies and Massachusetts’ experience as evidence that the law will lead to expanded coverage and lower costs.
“This law will decrease costs, strengthen small businesses and make it easier for employers to provide coverage to their workers, as we saw in Massachusetts, where employer coverage increased when similar reforms were adopted,” the official said.
The three governors — all of whom are up for re-election in 2014 — were speaking as part of the release of the chamber’s “Enterprising States” report that ranked states on business climate, job growth potential, educational programs and other measures.
The governors outlined steps their states have taken to create jobs and improve the business climate, including lowering taxes, regulatory reform, welfare reform, strengthening vocational education and developing home-grown energy sources.
While each of their states scored well in some area, none of the three ranked among the top 12 “strong performers” in the report. Maine ranked 48th in “overall performance” and 49th in “innovation and entrepreneurship,” but broke the Top 10 in the business “legal environment” and “high school advanced placement scores.”
Afterward, LePage refused to speak to a Portland Press Herald reporter about the report.
The Affordable Care Act came up repeatedly during Monday’s discussion.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce lobbied hard against the law’s passage and continues to criticize it.
Panel moderator Margaret Spellings, a senior adviser to the chamber, prefaced one question on the law to the governors by saying that “small businesses in particular are extremely frustrated about the Affordable Care Act.”
In his response, LePage said a 2011 health insurance reform law passed by the Maine Legislature has lowered insurance costs, while the Affordable Care Act will result in higher costs. The effects of both the Maine and the federal law have been the topic of bitter, partisan debate, however.
While the Maine law did lower costs for some Mainers, other consumers who live in rural areas or are older have seen their rates increase.
LePage said he is urging businesses in Maine with more than 50 employees to pay a financial penalty beginning next year if they decide not to offer health insurance to their employees, as required under Obamacare. If all businesses across the country opted to pay the penalty, he said, the president’s health care plan would “fall on its own weight.”
“In one year it would falter,” LePage said.
On the issue of economic development, LePage said his administration has focused on reducing red tape and expediting the permitting process for businesses. He received loud applause from the group when he talked about the Republican-controlled Legislature’s 2011 bill to reduce income taxes in Maine.
But he said Maine continues to struggle to attract and retain businesses because of high energy costs, which he blamed on wind energy.
“We in Maine have the 10th-highest energy costs in the United States of America and the reason for that is that we have wind (power),” LePage said. “And so what I have been doing is I have been inviting all Mainers to come to Augusta to our Capitol to break wind together,” he said, repeating a frequent joke. “Because it is the only way we are going to get rid of wind in our state.”
LePage is a longtime critic of wind power because of the federal subsidies that the industry receives, often portraying the industry as a special-interest lobbying force capitalizing on taxpayers. Instead, he has pushed to expand natural gas infrastructure.
The governor has also sought to allow larger hydropower facilities — in excess of 100 megawatts — to qualify as renewable energy sources under a state policy requiring electric suppliers to obtain a certain percentage of their energy from renewables.
That effort, which would open Maine’s renewable portfolio standard to large Canadian utilities, has failed in the past and appears unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Supporters of Maine’s wind power industry strongly dispute the governor’s repeated statements blaming wind energy for the state’s high energy costs.
An independent study by London Economics International found that while the renewable energy mandate adds about one-half of 1 percent to ratepayer bills, it encourages expansion of an industry that has pumped more than $1 billion into Maine’s economy in recent years.
“The reality is that the costs of the renewables policy on wind are far outweighed by the benefits,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, a trade group. “Wind has definitely been a topic that the governor likes to talk about. We welcome a fact-based, evidence-based discussion.”
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