PORTLAND — Gov. Paul LePage sharpened his attack on U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree over Medicaid cuts on Wednesday, suggesting Pingree is part of the “jet-setting Washington culture that keeps people dependent on government handouts.”
The Republican governor was angered when he learned Pingree, a Democrat, had urged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to reject Medicaid cuts approved by the Legislature that will eliminate coverage for more than 20,000 Mainers. LePage contends the cuts are legal because the Supreme Court decision that upheld President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul limited congressional power to expand Medicaid.
LePage sent a letter Wednesday to Sebelius saying Pingree made claims “that are, at best, misleading, and at worst, false.” He also sent a letter to Pingree telling that she prefers to represent “the power of bureaucrats in Washington” instead of the people of Maine.
Pingree responded by saying she never intended to engage in a public feud with LePage, but that she’s not backing down from fighting to save the benefits for “seniors, young people, people with disabilities and working families struggling to make ends meet.”
“Now is not the time to pull the rug out from under them by taking away their health care,” she said in a statement.
In a budget-cutting move, the Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated Medicaid coverage for seniors and people with disabilities in the Medicare Savings Program, 19- and 20-year-olds, and parents with incomes between 100 percent and 133 percent of the federal poverty level, allowing coverage for a family of three earning as much as $25,390.
Pingree contends the federal law prevents states from reducing Medicaid cuts before 2014, a provision that remains in effect after the Supreme Court ruling.
The two couldn’t even agree on the number of people who lost coverage. Pingree put the number at 27,000, while LePage said the figure for which the state originally needed a waiver was 21,000.
LePage opened his letter to Pingree with a personal attack on the “jet-setting Washington culture,” an apparent reference to flights she’s taken in her husband’s private jet, and included this partisan rebuke:
“You sing from the same old songbook: Raise taxes, raise the debt ceiling and use the power of the federal government to order around Americans and the state. It is time to stop,” he wrote.
Responded Pingree: “The health care reform law was debated and passed by Congress, signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court. It’s time to stop fighting about the health care law and start following it.