It would be fair to say that Gov. Paul LePage is not thrilled with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. It would be equally fair to say that Pingree is not overly happy with LePage, either.
Their philosophical disagreements about health care (and countless other things) didn’t begin on Monday, but Monday may have marked the start of a fierce battle of will between these two.
That was the day that Pingree sent a lengthy letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking her to “reaffirm federal regulations prohibiting big cuts in the Medicaid program in Maine.”
That’s Congress-speak for “Tell Gov. LePage he can’t cut Medicaid.”
The letter, at least from LePage’s perspective, was an intentional play to interfere with Maine’s efforts to earn a federal waiver of Medicaid eligibility requirements. Maine will need that waiver to implement the recently passed state budget that trims existing Medicaid services.
On Wednesday, after a day to collect himself, LePage wrote to Sebelius and asked her — very nicely — to ignore Pingree’s letter, which he described as an “opinion piece.” And, not so nicely, he suggested that Pingree’s letter contained “false” information, and encouraged Sebelius and her staff to consider Maine’s not-yet-filed submission for waiver in a “full, fair and equitable review, free of political interference.”
LePage saved his more direct approach for Pingree, who also got a letter Wednesday.
In that letter, LePage expressed his deep disappointment to Pingree that she would write to Sebelius seeking to undermine the state Legislature’s efforts.
“It appears,” he wrote,” that you have become part of the jet-setting Washington culture that keeps people dependent on government handouts.”
He chastised her, writing, “While you might not like the welfare reforms made by the Maine Legislature, it is astounding that you would actively advocate for the federal government to overrule Maine’s decision.”
There’s more, including a terse accusation that Pingree sings “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 states. It is time to stop.”
LePage, fairly enough, wrote to Pingree before writing to Sebelius, although the difference in delivery time may have been a matter of minutes.
He assured Pingree he would copy her on the Sebelius letter, “despite the fact that it is a courtesy you have not extended to us,” and challenged her to rethink her position and “work with the state you claim to represent.”
Hours after receiving that letter, Pingree issued a press release saying it was never her intention “for this to be a personal dispute with Governor LePage.”
Really? Hard to believe that when, instead of first speaking directly with LePage, she wrote to Sebelius asking that LePage — and Maine’s forthcoming waiver request — be ignored. And, then, after receiving LePage’s letter Wednesday, instead of responding to him directly, she issued a press statement to announce she had no intention of backing down.
“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,” Pingree wrote.
One must wonder what Sebelius thinks of this public spat.
We expect the volley between LePage and Pingree to continue, because the political posturing has just gotten too pointed to drop.
What makes this all the more interesting is that they’re jabbing at each other before Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has even filed for a waiver allowing the state to tighten Medicaid eligibility requirements, which will cut some benefits for Maine’s elderly, disabled and low-income parents, and eliminate MaineCare coverage for 19- and 20-year-olds.
It's likely to get even uglier once the request for waiver is active, especially since the Obama Administration has made it clear for months that it was unlikely to grant such a waiver.
You can say what you want about LePage and Pingree, but LePage’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act and his resolve to force health care changes in Maine, and Pingree’s clear and active intention to stand in the way, is grabbing attention from the electorate. This may be the very issue that we need to reverse voter apathy and reinvigorate citizen debate.
Given that health care professions are the fastest growing job segment in this country and that the cost of care is rising, as are the numbers of poor and elderly patients in need of care, how we shape our future health care system matters for everyone. Not just the sick.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.