Over the objections of some Republican leaders, Democrats and GOP lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee have reached a budget compromise that includes new taxes that will generate an additional $180 million. Now, House Republicans have sent a letter to Democratic Speaker Mark Eves, saying that they'll refuse to vote on the budget until bills on Medicaid expansion, Medicaid hospital debt and the merger of the state Agriculture and Conservation departments are brought up for a vote.
"The House Republican caucus has been urging Speaker Eves and Democrat leadership to let us vote up or down on the hospital debt bill," says Assistant House GOP leader Alex Willette.
And after an earlier hospital debt bill was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, another was given a unanimous endorsement by the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. That's the bill Republicans would like to act on immediately.
But Democratic leaders have insisted that no vote will take place on the hospital debt bill until Medicaid expansion is approved by the Legislature. The measure would expand Medicaid benefits to 70,000 more Mainers under the federal Affordable Care Act.
It was approved by the House and then amended in the Senate by a Republican lawmaker who included a provision that requires Maine to withdraw from the expansion after three years, should the federal government fail to pay the promised 100 percent of expansion costs.
House Democrats met one-third of the Republican demands by taking up the expansion bill. They approved the Senate's amended version of the bill, but not without a floor fight over Gov. Paul LePage's demand that lawmakers find a way to address the Medicaid needs of 3,100 people with developmental disabilities on a waiting list that are unable to receive services.
GOP Rep. Deborah Sanderson, of Chelsea, led the debate on the amendment. She reminded lawmakers that the people she and LePage were trying to help are unable to come to Augusta to make their voices known.
"Today, I'm their voice," Sanderson said. "Today they ask you to finally make them the first priorty. Today, they ask you to stop sending them to the back of the line, behind others who, yes, may be poor, but they are able-bodied - able-bodied who have options and choices that the individuals I am speaking for today do not have."
Sanderson's amendment was killed in an 88-61 vote. The House then went on to take up the amended Medicaid expansion bill as approved by the Senate, and Republicans renewed their objections to the plan, returning to persistent arguments over internal flaws within the Medicaid program. Rep. Richard Malaby is a Hancock Republican.
"This is a system that was designed in 1965, and it's really not been adapted ever since," Malaby said. "And we in Maine and many other states lack the ability to choose distinct populations with particular needs. It's kind of an 'all or none.' I find that a little bit difficult, because of that 50,000 or 70,000 that we may be adding to the system, I would prefer to add some other populations that are, I think, perhaps further in need."
Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe said Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to accomplish those goals.
"We're all concerned about these folks on the waiting list, they are truly the most vulnerable in our population and we need to do all we can do to address the challenges of this population," McCabe said. "I know that the budget that, hopefully, we will be voting on in the next couple of days begins to address these problems, but it does not go far enough."
The Maine House gave final enactment to the Medicaid expansion bill in a 97 to 51 vote that included the support of six Republicans. The bill faces a final vote in the Senate.