AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic lawmakers had no change of heart Friday on a bill to repay a $484 million debt to Maine hospitals and expand Medicaid.
Democrats support the bill to repay the debt and expand Medicaid, a feature of the federal Affordable care Act. But LePage and fellow Republicans want the two issues handled separately, and the governor began steps Friday to veto the legislation.
The Senate and House took the day off but party leaders in the House signaled during TV appearances that there was no movement on either side, and dueling news releases were floated throughout the day.
“Right now we’re really focused on what is before us, and that is a bill to repay Maine’s hospitals and make sure that 70,000 Mainers get health coverage,” House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said on WCSH-TV’s “In the Arena” program.
Meanwhile, House Republican leader Ken Fredette of Newport said on WCSH that he does not expect Democrats to prevail. “Not one single Republican in the House or the Senate has voted for the bill,” he said.
Lawmakers gave final approval to the bill to repay the debt, with the state’s $186 million share to be covered by future liquor sales. LePage and Democrats agree on that provision, but LePage will veto the bill because it also includes an expansion of Medicaid.
“Democrat leadership has spent the past week forcing this bill through the legislative process, over the objections of Republicans and Democrats alike,” LePage’s veto message said. “This unadulterated partisanship tied two different issues together in a quest to force welfare expansion upon the Maine people. I have said all along this bill would receive a veto when it reached my desk, so this letter should be no surprise.”
The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to override the veto.
Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland said in a statement Friday that the governor’s veto “denied paying off the final bill to Maine’s hospitals and providing health care to tens of thousands of Mainers.”
He also expressed hope that some resolution could be reached.
“We don’t need political excuses. We don’t need to draw hard lines drawn in the sand. We simply shouldn’t wait to do what’s right for our state, both morally and fiscally,” Alfond said.
On WCSH, Eves urged residents to call Republican legislators and LePage’s office “to make sure we can follow through and do the right thing.”
“And on Tuesday, when the veto comes up, we have another opportunity to get this right, and we ask that the Republicans join us in doing that,” he said.
But Maine Republican Party Chairman Richard Cebra, in a prepared statement, accused Democrats of “petty, childish politics since this session began.”
Fredette said on WCSH that he suspects the Senate override will fail “and that will be the end of it.” But he also suggested a bipartisan study commission to work out a solution. Fredette has submitted a bill to that effect. “I think we have time to do it,” he said.