AUGUSTA — Maine Republicans and Democratic congressional hopeful Jared Golden exchanged harsh words Thursday as a political battle takes shape about whether the state will follow the dictate of voters to expand Maine’s Medicaid program.

Jason Savage, the GOP’s executive director, said Golden could not explain how the state would come up with the cash to pay its share of the cost of adding 70,000 or more Mainers to the federal health care program’s rolls.

When Golden talked about the issue during a radio interview, Savage said, he “twisted himself into a pretzel” while suggesting that “coming up with the money will be no big deal.”

Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, said Savage “is a political pundit who has no idea how to govern.”

“The governor and the Maine GOP tried to make a case to Maine voters against expanded health care coverage and just like their friends in Washington, they lost and lost badly,” said Golden, a state representative who serves as his party’s whip in the House.

“The election is over and it’s time to govern,” he said. “Jason Savage has no role in that, so try as he may to mislead and bend the truth, when the Legislature goes back into session in January, we will handle this.”

Savage said Democrats have no plan on how to pay the additional $54 million or more the state has to come up with to cover its share of the additional Medicaid expense. The federal government is paying 90 percent of the more than $500 million annual tab.

He dismissed Golden’s suggestion on the radio that perhaps the money could be taken from the rainy-day fund, insisting that money “is meant to be there for tough times and emergencies, not for spending on welfare for able-bodied adults.”

Savage said Democrats “need to get serious and get to work cleaning up the mess they just made” instead of pushing a “welfare expansion” that will “cost Mainers more and more money.”

Democrats said Maine voters are the ones who agreed to expand Medicaid. The responsibility of lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage, they said, is to fund the program that voters enacted.

“I’m excited to work with Democrats, independents and Republicans in the Legislature to set our priorities straight and expand health care coverage to 70,000 Mainers and bring $500 million in federal investment into our state to help stabilize rural hospitals and health care providers and create thousands of good-paying jobs at the same time,” Golden said.

But Savage said Democrats “should not expect Republicans to violate their core principles to bail them out on this expensive and poorly planned expansion.”

He said Golden, one of a few Democrats seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin in 2018’s 2nd District congressional race, “needs to understand that Democrats simply repeating that it is time to implement Medicaid expansion is not a plan — it is a talking point. Maine’s budget is not balanced with talking points.”

Rep. Gina Melaragno, D-Auburn, said it is “sad to see that Gov. LePage and his Republican allies may try to derail another citizen initiative.”

“The people have spoken, and we need to make this work,” she said. “People working low-wage jobs deserve to have access to quality, affordable health care just like the governor has.”

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Rep. Jared Golden (submitted photo)

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