During an interview Monday morning on the Fox News talk show “Fox & Friends,” Gov. Paul LePage said the federal government should return $800 billion that he claimed it “stole” from Medicare funds to make the Affordable Care Act work.
When asked about President Trump’s budget proposals, which would not cut defense spending, Social Security or Medicare, LePage said he was concerned about the stance on Medicare.
“I’m a little concerned that they are not going to touch Medicare,” LePage said. “I think what they should be doing with Medicare is return the $800 billion that they stole to put into Obamacare. And I really do believe it was stealing from the American people.”
LePage said Americans have been paying into Medicare with payroll taxes, and former President Obama “went in and took $800 billion out to make his program work and I really don’t think that’s appropriate. I think they should at least return that money.”
The governor’s claim is similar to one made by former Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, who have said $700 billion was stolen from the federal medical insurance program that covers health care for those 65 and older. But according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit and nonpartisan Washington-D.C. based think tank on the federal budget, the enactment of the Affordable Care Act did not reduce the amount of money going to pay for Medicare but reduced the amount Medicare spends.
“In fact, Medicare payroll tax revenues increased, increasing the amount that could be spent,” a report by the committee notes. “Partially as a result of these changes, the Medicare Trust Fund is expected to be solvent through 2030, 13 years longer than projected before the (ACA) was passed.”
Later in the short interview Monday, LePage repeated Trump’s point that Congress should “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. He said that instead of having to follow strict federal rules for health care funds under Medicaid, states should be given block grants to design their own health care benefit programs for people with low incomes.
“Get rid of it,” LePage said. “One size does not fit all; every state has their unique dynamics.”
LePage noted that Maine has the oldest population in the U.S., “so we need to have our own program that we can design to fit our state.”
Other topics LePage discussed included the state’s budget cash flow balance of $1 billion and his attendance at a ball for U.S. governors that was hosted by Trump at the White House on Sunday night.
“I understand, to your credit, you have $1 billion in the bank, in profit – that’s a heck of a rainy day fund. How did you do that?” host Brian Kilmeade asked LePage. The governor responded by saying it was simply “tough management.”
“We run it like a business; we have accountability. You know I don’t spend a whole lot. I only spend what I need to,” LePage said.
But State Treasurer Terry Hayes clarified Monday that the state has just over $122 million in its “rainy day” fund, which is formally called the Budget Stabilization Fund.
In an email in response to a question from the Portland Press Herald, Hayes said the premise of Kilmeade’s question to the governor was a misstatement and that the funds do not represent profit or surplus.
“The Treasurer’s cash pool has maintained a running average daily balance of over $1 billion to date in fiscal year 2017 – for the first time ever,” Hayes wrote. “This money is best described as the state’s checkbook – it is used daily for withdrawals to pay the state’s bills and for deposits of taxes and other revenues. This is the money already raised through taxation, appropriated by the Legislature, and administered by the Governor and the Executive Branch agencies. It is not extra money or savings. What is ‘new’ is that this running balance is sufficient for the state to cover its expenses on a day-to-day basis without borrowing from other cash pool components.”
Hayes said the $122 million in the rainy day fund is included in the cash pool.
Kilmeade also wished LePage luck with a meeting later Monday, but he did not say with whom the governor was meeting. LePage’s press secretary and communications director in Augusta declined to comment on LePage’s schedule in Washington.
According to the schedule of the National Governors Association’s winter meeting in Washington, a meeting between governors and Trump was planned for Monday morning.
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at: