AUGUSTA — Maine Democrats have fallen short so far in their attempt to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law this year, and Republicans didn’t get their wish to overhaul welfare programs, either. But that won’t stop them from trying to transform those failures into successes on the campaign trail as they now return to their districts to drum up votes for the November election.
Democrats’ continued push to expand health care and Republicans’ repeated efforts to transform welfare are expected to play well with their bases as they blame each other for lack of progress in Augusta.
“We’re going to be able to go out and say that we supported a bipartisan compromise … to provide health care to 70,000 Mainers,” said House Speaker Mark Eves, of North Berwick, of the Medicaid expansion proposal vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and sustained by GOP lawmakers last week for a third time this session.
“I wish it weren’t a campaign issue. … But if we can’t be successful this session, then it will be,” he said as lawmakers rushed to finish up their work for the year.
BOTH SIDES STYMIED
Democrats will have one more shot at overturning a near-certain veto of a Medicaid expansion proposal sent to LePage late Thursday, but it appears to be headed down the same path as past efforts.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s unsuccessful push to pass measures that would have limited the use of electronic benefit transfer cards and implemented stricter work-search requirements is likely to become a central theme in their effort to regain majorities in both chambers.
“What the message here, really, is status quo versus reform,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport. “I think the Democrats’ lack of an ability in the House to embrace these ideas is going to cost them in the fall elections.”
Lawmakers have left Augusta, but their work hasn’t officially come to a close. They plan to return in early May to vote on any bills that LePage may veto after they left, potentially including a measure to close a $30 million hole in the state budget.
While partisan battles were ignited over issues like welfare and revenue sharing this year, what’s often one of the most contentious debates each session – the state budget fix – was embraced by both parties and flew through the Legislature with ease.
Its success was made even more surprising by the unprecedented challenge they faced, Democrats said. LePage refused to introduce a budget proposal after lawmakers overturned his veto of $6.3 billion state budget last year, which left lawmakers to come up with one on their own from scratch.
LEPAGE’S VETO POWER IS FELT
Like last session, LePage’s agenda was dealt a significant blow, but his power came from the use of his veto pen.
Democrats slammed the door on his efforts to streamline the work-permit process for minors and create special zones that provide business incentives and workers the ability not to pay labor union dues.
But despite LePage’s rejection of more than 130 bills since becoming governor in 2011 – more than any other governor in recent history – Democrats have managed to overturn his veto only 13 times since taking over the Legislature.
For Republicans, ensuring those bills aren’t revived by the Democratic majority was just as much a victory as any bills they were able to get to the governor’s desk this session.
“Some of those bills would have substantially been significant policy shifts in ways that we don’t think would have been good for the state of Maine,” Fredette said. “So I think stopping bad legislation from becoming law is as important as passing Legislation.”