Politics

March 1, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Gov. Christie, please phone your buddy in Maine

Dear Gov. Chris Christie,

I just watched this heartwarming video of an exchange you had at a town meeting in New Jersey the other night with a little second-grader named Audrey.

Audrey, as you know, has grandparents up here in Maine who apparently know our Gov. Paul LePage. And when he met her last summer, LePage gave Audrey a pair of gifts -- a photo and a coin -- for her to deliver to you.

"Governor LePage of Maine!" you exclaimed with genuine surprise. "He gave you gifts to give to me?"

"Yeah," replied Audrey.

"Yeah, he's crazy," you quipped as the crowd erupted in laughter. "I love Paul. He's great."

Which brings me to why I'm writing.

Gov. Christie, Maine needs your help.

We need you to call Gov. LePage -- Big Guy to Almost-As-Big Guy -- and knock a little sense into his head about this whole Medicaid expansion thing.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that you and I see the world differently in a lot of ways. But I've always considered you a pretty smart guy -- even if you are from New Jersey.

You reinforced that perception in a big way Tuesday when you announced you'd embrace the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act and add 300,000 New Jerseyans -- at no cost to your state -- to the Garden State's Medicaid rolls.

Why the turnaround by a governor who not long ago called "Obamacare" nothing less than government-sanctioned "extortion?" (At least until the U.S. Supreme Court said it wasn't.)

"It's simple," you explained in a speech to New Jersey's legislature. "We are putting people first."

Well, break out the Crayolas and color me impressed, Governor. You're not nearly as dumb as all those tea partiers wish you were.

I particularly like your reasoning: By refusing to expand Medicaid and thus forfeiting the guaranteed 100 percent federal funding through 2016 and at least 90 percent after 2020, you'd simply be letting those dollars get diverted to "New York, Connecticut, Ohio or somewhere else."

But not Maine, right Governor?

While you project $227 million in savings for next year alone by putting more of your citizens under the protective umbrella of quality health care, your buddy LePage continues to turn up his nose at an estimated $140 million a year in federal funding to cover upwards of 69,500 uninsured Mainers. Folks who will have no choice but to take whatever ails them to the nearest hospital emergency room.

"Expanding Medicaid is the smart thing to do for our fiscal and public health (and will) ensure New Jersey taxpayers will see their dollars maximized," you told your lawmakers.

I know, Gov. Christie, you're still no fan of the Affordable Care Act. But you at least had the good sense to acknowledge that it's "now the law of the land."

And hard-right ideology be damned, it was pure integrity talking when you promised to "make all my judgments as governor based on what's best for New Jersey."

Geez, Gov. Christie, have you ever considered an extended visit to Vacationland? Maybe while Gov. LePage is down in Jamaica tearing up the golf courses and sipping the umbrella drinks?

But back to that phone call to the Blaine House.

If you can swing it, loop in one or two of the seven other Republican governors who have seen the Medicaid light in recent days.

I'd suggest Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who really ticked off the tea partiers when he noted that, with the feds picking up 100 percent of the tab, "I cannot, in good conscience, deny Floridians the needed access to health care."

Or Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who correctly noted during her state-of-the-state speech last month that by slamming the conservative door on Medicaid expansion, "Arizona's tax dollars would simply be passed to another state -- generating jobs and providing health care for citizens in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico or any other expansion state."

Together, you all could explain to Gov. LePage that the more he sticks to his rhetorical guns -- he calls the Medicaid expansion a "degradation of our nation's premier health care system" -- the more those guns seem to be pointed at his own foot.

Tell him that there comes a time in every governor's tenure when what's best for your state trumps what's best for your base -- particularly when that base screams "Stop all government spending!" even as they apply for heating fuel assistance and wait by the mailbox for their Social Security checks.

You might even point out to LePage that Maine taxpayers face a double whammy here: In addition to subsidizing Medicaid expansion for states that know a good deal when they see one (read: the rest of New England), we'll ultimately face higher premiums as hospitals pass on the cost of "charity care" for the uninsured to our health insurance carriers.

I know, Gov, Christie, that's a lot for our guy and his administration to wrap their heads around.

Heck, just last week Mary Mayhew, our commissioner of health and human services, banged out a long letter to the Maine Legislature exulting in a $33 million grant -- every dime of which flows from the Affordable Care Act -- to help Maine upgrade its health-care delivery system.

Not once -- in over 1,000 words -- did Mayhew use the word "federal." Apparently, she and LePage want us to believe that money just fell from the sky.

My point here -- and I suspect you already know this, Gov. Christie -- is that LePage & Co. are so rooted in their tea party doctrine that they don't know an extremely good deal when they see one. Or, if they in fact do see it, they simply don't care.

You, sir, vaulted right over that philosophical hump. You stepped back, took in the big picture, and told the tea partiers to go soak their heads.

In short, Gov. Christie, you behaved like a true leader.

So call your buddy Paul, will you please?

Thank him for the gifts from little Audrey.

Assure him, just as you told her, that you love him.

Then tell him -- just between Big Guys -- what you can see all the way from New Jersey.

He's crazy.

 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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