Democratic leader: LePage can expect a lawsuit if he blocks Medicaid expansion

Good morning from Augusta, where the approaching bombo-cyclo-blizz snowstorm, or whatever it is, has closed state offices and stalled legislative committees.

There’s been a lot written and said about last year’s referendum to expand Maine’s Medicaid program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and the funding battle that’s brewing this year in the Legislature.

But according to Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, there will be no battle.

Yeah, you read that right. He says Democrats don’t intend to even engage in a funding debate this year because the Legislature’s fiscal office has already determined there is enough funding in the Medicaid program to last through May of 2019.

“It’s important that every time the governor talks about ‘the Legislature hasn’t put forward any funding so I’m not going to do my job,’ that the people recognize he’s simply making excuses,” Golden said Wednesday.

Gov. Paul LePage and a number of Republicans have made it clear that they will do just about anything to block Medicaid expansion. LePage refused to send Department of Health and Human Services officials to discuss the issue with lawmakers in December and wrote in a letter that the Legislature would have to find funding without a tax increase or using money from the budget stabilization fund. Meanwhile, according to the expansion law, the administration is directed to begin planning with the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services now in preparation for bringing new enrollees into the program this spring.

Golden said expansion proponents’ strategy is to watch for signs the LePage administration is not moving forward with expansion and if not, to sue him. “The organizations that banded together to support Question 2 feel like they have a bullet-proof legal argument,” he said. That could create a stalemate that could delay the expansion for months and possibly until after LePage leaves office in January 2019, but Golden balked at the word stalemate and said LePage’s funding demands are a “false battle” about funding that’s not needed this fiscal year or next.

Though the funding discussion may be delayed, it has to happen sometime. The Legislature’s fiscal office expects expansion of the program and giving taxpayer-funded health care to at least 70,000 more Mainers to cost some $55 million a year, though LePage has said there will be more enrollees than that at nearly double the cost. While you wait and watch, here’s your soundtrack.

Poliquin insists his Iran bill is constitutional amid Trump challenge

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin says it’s ‘very clear’ that his bill only deals with unclassified information. The Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act, which has passed in the House of Representatives and is sponsored by the Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, would force the U.S. Treasury Department to publicly report the assets of top Iranian officials. But Buzzfeed reported last week that President Donald Trump‘s Justice Department called it unconstitutional, saying it would “intrude on the President’s authority to control the dissemination of national security information.” Poliquin told WGAN on Thursday that it’s “very clear” that it doesn’t deal with classified information and “puts pressure on Iranian leaders that are ripping off the people.”

It isn’t the first time this bill has faced opposition from a chief executive. Former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, threatened to veto a similar version of it in 2016, saying it was “onerous” and would simply push Iranian officials to work harder to hide assets.

Reading list

  • DHHS is doling out cash for after-school programs without collecting bids first. More than a dozen nonprofit organizations are receiving more than $1.7 million a year of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds that were formerly given to low-income families with children. The number of those recipients has fallen by two-thirds since 2012, but the state says the new spending is meant to better distribute the benefits statewide.
  • A federal judge has ordered LePage to release $3 million in job training funds. The decision — first reported by Maine Public on Wednesday — comes just over three months after a lawsuit from Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. in Brunswick that said the administration wasn’t following federal law in releasing the federal funds. The administration can appeal the ruling.
  • Trump’s election fraud commission is kaput. The group, which included Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, was formed after the 2016 election to investigate what Trump said was illegal voting, but ran into problems when a number of states refused to share voting data. The commission met only twice and faced a series of lawsuits, including one from Dunlap demanding access to commission data and paperwork. Trump disbanded the commission Wednesday.
  • A top election official has found problems with a law that aims to switch Maine from presidential caucuses to primaries in 2020. Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn told a legislative panel on Wednesday that the local costs of holding primaries should be nailed down before the 2016 law is implemented. Now, the state’s political parties bear the cost of their presidential caucuses, but the secretary of state’s office estimates that a primary will represent a $1 million cost-shift to the state and municipalities. Flynn also said that it has been difficult for her office to reach city and town clerks across Maine to survey them on cost estimates.

Songs in the key of O

Obama offered a list of books he read and his favorite songs for 2017, but amazingly, his song list did not mirror the Daily Brief soundtrack playlist for last year.

Some pundits interpreted it as a sly way to tweak Trump. But we take it as a brazen insult to the musical taste of the Daily Brief staff. We’ll just have to get over it.

Here is Obama’s soundtrack. Despite our hurt feelings, here is our soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.