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Sunday January 29, 2012 | 03:00 PM

Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe declined to say today where she stands on Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to cut MaineCare benefits, a plan that relies on federal approval for $37 million worth of proposed cuts.

Democratic Senate candidate Jon Hinck, one of three Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to run for Snowe’s seat in the fall, said Saturday in a release that Snowe should reject the plan, which Hinck says would shred the state’s safety net for low-income Mainers.

Hinck, a state representative from Portland, charged that Snowe was holding back because of her political ties to LePage. LePage is a tea party movement favorite who has endorsed Snowe’s bid for a fourth-Senate term.

Snowe is considered a moderate Republican and is being opposed in the GOP primary by two tea party affiliated candidates, Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell. The other Democrats running for Senate are former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town and state Sen. Cynthia Dill, D-Cape Elizabeth, and Portland home builder Benjamin Pollard.

LePage’s personal ties to Snowe date to help he received as a young man from Snowe’s late first husband, Peter Snowe. For her part, Snowe endorsed LePage’s 2010 gubernatorial bid.

“Senator Snowe should reject any attempt by LePage to leverage their personal and political ties to gain help in efforts to slash the safety net needed by Maine’s most vulnerable citizens,” Hinck said Saturday.

But asked this weekend about whether she supports or opposes the plan, Snowe spokesman Chris Averill said Sunday that the response from Snowe’s office is that, “We're willing to help in whatever way the Governor and Legislature decide to proceed.”

Averill did not say where Snowe stands on the plan itself.

Democrats in Maine’s legislature question whether the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services would grant approval of the waivers needed for part of the proposed cuts - which include eliminating Medicaid coverage for 19- and 20-year olds and some parents whose income is above the poverty level.

Maine Democrats cite as evidence that LePage wouldn’t get the waivers he seeks a letter received last week from Cindy Mann, an official with HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, that said the federal agency has not approved any waiver requests made purely to achieve budget savings, and indicated waivers likely would be approved only for experimental programs. And Democrats note that Arizona has had a waiver request rejected.

Mary Mayhew, Maine Department of Health and Human Services commissioner, said last week that the LePage administration "build a strong case. We will work with our congressional delegation." LePage said he was prepared to go to Washington and personally lobby U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. 

In December, LePage said he was “absolutely confident” that Maine would get the federal waivers he is seeking. LePage said he was confident the federal government would work with the state because it does not want Maine to “go bankrupt or broke.”

But Maine’s members of Congress weren’t yet expressing such confidence. On Dec. 22, Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st Congressional District, said that Maine would have trouble getting federal approval for the cuts.

Snowe, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, were waiting in late December to see how much, if any, of LePage’s proposed cuts were adopted by the Legislature.


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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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