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Effort to Override LePage Medicaid Expansion Veto Fails in Initial Vote
06/19/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

End-of-the-session emotions were high in the Maine House this afternoon after Democrats fell one vote short of overriding Gov. Paul lePage's veto of a bill that would have expanded Medicaid benefits to 70,000 Mainers. The bill has been tabled in the House until later tonight in hopes of garnering enough Republican votes for an an override. A.J. Higgins has more.

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Effort to Override LePage Medicaid Expansion Veto Listen

Democratic leaders thought they had enough votes to override the governor's veto of the Medicaid expansion plan that would come under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act. But Republicans pulled out all the stops. And in a dramatic showdown this afternoon, they denied Democrats the two-thirds majority they needed to override the veto of LD 1066. Some Republicans even broke out in song.

"Bye bye, Miss American Pie, drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry. The levy is dry," said Rep. Heather Sirocki.

Sirocki, a Scarborough Republican, used Don McLean's anthem "American Pie" as a recurring metaphor for the reliance of more than 300,000 Mainers on state Medicaid benefits. And she used the song's lyrics to suggest that the federal plan might be nothing more than a feel-good measure.

"A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile, and I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance, and maybe they'd be happy for a while," Sirocki said.

Democrats were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the prospect of Sirocki possibly going on to include the entire 8 minutes and 33 seconds of the 1971 song, and some Republicans appeared puzzled. Finally, Rep. Diane Russell, a Portland Democrat, had had enough.

"And as the flames climbed high into the night to light the sacrificial rite..." Sirocki said, when she was interrupted by House Speaker Mark Eves. "Will the representative defer?" he said. "The chair recognizes the representative from Portland, Rep. Russell."

"Mr. Speaker, how is this relevant to the conversation at hand?" Russell asked.

"The chair would remind all members to make sure that your comments are what is before us and that is the override veto of 1066," Eves responded.

State Rep. Larry Lockman, an Amherst Republican, asked if any of the representatives could tell him how many of the 3,100 seriously disabled Mainers who are covered, but are on waiting lists, would be covered by the expansion. He sat down after he didn't get an answer. Then he got up again.

Speaker Eves: "The chair recognizes the representative from Amherst, Rep. Lockman."

Rep. Lockman: "Thank you Mr. Speaker, I would like to answer the question posed by the representative from Amherst, Rep. Lockman, the answer is 'zero' - none of those people will be covered."

Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act is a top priority for majority Democrats this year, and they needed two-thirds of those present and voting in the House to override the governor. With 149 members present, House leaders concluded the number of votes required for two-thirds was 99.

When the tally board showed the override failing 98-51, Democratic House Majority Leader Seth Berry voted with the Republicans. Under House rules, Berry could then bring the vote up for reconsideration later in the day - a parlimentary maneuver that frustrated House Republican Leader Ken Fredette.

"Mr. Speaker, I would object that the vote was taken, the yeas and the nays were recorded, and the final tally was recorded that this action has been resolved," Fredette said.

But House Speaker Mark Eves said Berry's reconsideration vote was in accordance with House rules and let the motion stand. The bill is now tabled allowing Democrats a little more time to try to convince a few more Republicans to oppose LePage.


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