Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Vote delayed: All eyes were supposed to be on the Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday as lawmakers prepare to vote out another Medicaid expansion bill. But according to an email sent Wednesday morning by the spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves the committee won't pull the trigger after all (UPDATE: The committee tabled the bill @ 9:30 a.m.).
The delay may be because Democrats are still working on an amended bill that will enhance the chances of a veto-proof majority.
Democrats are also hoping they'll be able to claim a "bipartisan" committee vote to support the bill, but it's unlikely that bipartisan will be mean more than one Republican vote on the panel. Last year Rep. Carol McElwee, R-Caribou, supported Medicaid expansion, voting last year to overturn Gov. Paul LePage's veto. McElwee is on the Health and Human Services Committee so it won't be a surprise if she supports a new version of the proposal.
The bigger question will be whether enough Republicans will join Democrats to vote for the final version when it counts. Gov. Paul LePage said recently that he expects Medicaid expansion will pass (he said lawmakers had "no compassion."). Still, there will be a lot of pressure on Republicans to reject expansion, just as there was last year. Democrats may be able to bring along enough Republicans for the early votes in the House and Senate, but holding them will be difficult.
That's why you're not hearing many actual names of Republican supporters: The longer they're out there as "yes" expansion votes, the longer they'll be lobbied by opponents to reject it.
Also, the conventional wisdom has been that swing district Republicans are the likely 'yes' votes. But McElwee is a prime example that the swing-district theory falls short. She's a rural Republican who may be feeling pressure from her constituents -- or the local hospital -- to back expansion.
The Maine Hospital Association will play a key role. Hospitals and the MHA seem to be more vocal about supporting expansion this year than they were last year. That's important. Hospitals have a lot of influence in the State House, and in legislatures across the country. Hospital support has tipped the balance in several expansion debates in other states. That's because hospitals are major employers, they have deep roots in their respective communities.
That's why LePage's hospital payback bill was successful last year. And it could be that Republicans with hospitals in or near their districts will feel the same pressure to vote for Medicaid expansion that Democrats felt to approve debt payback revenue bond last year.
Lining up: Town officials, cops, firefighters and others were lining up early Wednesday morning outside of the Appropriations Committee to testify in favor of a bill that would restore municipal revenue sharing cuts. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, and Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, faces an uphill battle because of the budget shortfall.
Worms vs. clams: Speaking of big crowds, there's another one in front of the Marine Resources Committee Wednesday morning. Clammers and worm diggers are lining up for a public hearing on L.D. 1452, a bill that would allow towns with shellfish conservation ordinances to request a prohibition on marine worm harvesting.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, is contentious because clammers and worm harvesters rely on the same flats for their livelihoods. Clammers have blamed worm harveters for a decline in shellfish population and for taking worms on so-called seed flats -- conservation areas designed to rebuild the clam population.
He said it: Let's take a quick trip outside the Pine Tree State to observe the rolling circus over "Bridgegate." On Tuesday the Democratic Governors Association sent out a release playing up recently defeated Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli's comments that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should resign as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Jonathan Martin, national political correspondent for the New York Times, may have had the best reaction to the DGA release:
Know who's wishing, at least for a bit, Cuccinelli was governor about now? Nat'l Dems. Bc his call on Christie to quit RGA wld matter more— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) January 22, 2014
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.