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Mitch McConnell aims to revise Senate health-care bill by Friday

Press Herald Politics -

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to send a revised version of his health-care bill to the Congressional Budget Office by as soon as Friday, according to Capitol Hill aides and lobbyists.

The effort reflects the tight timeline McConnell faces in his attempt to hold a vote before the August recess – and the pressure he is under to make changes that improve the CBO’s measure of the bill’s impact on coverage levels and federal spending.

McConnell is trying to move quickly to produce a new CBO score by the time lawmakers return to Washington in mid-July, giving the Senate about two weeks to fulfill the majority leader’s goal of voting before the August recess.

McConnell and his aides plan to continue negotiations through the end of the week and will be in frequent communication with the CBO, according to McConnell spokesman David Popp.

It remains unclear exactly what parts of the Better Care Reconciliation Act are being revised – or whether McConnell is trying to move the measure to the right, with greater savings or regulatory adjustments, or to the left, with more coverage protections. McConnell needs to bring on board about nine Republican senators,including Susan Collins of Maine, who have said they wouldn’t vote for the billin its current form. Moving to the right would appease conservatives in the Senate – but also in the House, where any Senate bill would also have to pass.

Aides both at the White House and on Capitol Hill are aware of the effort, several Republican aides said Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks. One aide described the situation as akin to the weeks leading up to the draft bill’s release, when McConnell presented chunks of the emerging legislation to CBO to expedite the scoring process. The aide expected Republican leaders to present tweaks to CBO for review as soon as this week.

Another aide said that after Tuesday’s meeting with President Trump at the White House, Republicans have a better sense now of what everyone wants. A draft is not yet ready, but the reworking process has begun.

Robert Costa, Kelsey Snell, Paul Kane and Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

Interactive map: Who’ll pay if 3% education surcharge stands? Mostly Democrats

Press Herald Politics -

While Republicans in the Maine Legislature are struggling to repeal a voter-approved income tax surcharge on Maine’s highest earners, the vast majority of households that would be affected by the surcharge live in areas that consistently and overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, according to statistics from the Internal Revenue Service.

Last November, Maine voters approved a new 3% tax on the state’s highest earners to fund statewide education.

The measure was forecast to generate over $120 million in new income tax revenue for 2017. But in negotiations over the state budget this month, Republican efforts to repeal the new tax rate have become the major stumbling block for a budget agreement. If lawmakers do not pass a budget by June 30, the state government may shut down.

Data from the Internal Revenue Service for the 2014 tax year breaks down where these high-income households live, by ZIP code. These statistics are illustrated in the map below. For privacy, the IRS suppresses statistics in ZIP codes where there are fewer than 20 tax returns reporting over $200,000 in income: these areas are shaded yellow.

Search by ZIP code or town name SOURCE: U.S. Internal Revenue Service INTERACTIVE: Christian MilNeil | @c_milneil

Statewide, fewer than 1 in 40 tax returns claimed income higher than $200,000 a year in 2014. But the ratio of high-income tax returns is substantially higher in a handful of coastal communities in Greater Portland and the midcoast region.

In the town of Cumberland, for instance, where only 33% of voters supported Donald Trump, 1 in 7 returns reported income over $200,000. In Yarmouth, where Trump won just 27% of the vote, 1 in 8 tax returns met the high-earner threshold.

Indeed, many of the towns where the most high-income taxpayers live are also towns where Hillary Clinton won some of her strongest support in the 2016 presidential election. The map below shows how each town voted in the November election – note the similarities between this map and the maps above:

2016 presidential election results SOURCE: Associated Press INTERACTIVE: Christian MilNeil | @c_milneil

Shutting down free speech

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

As Maine’s legislative leaders bring us to the brink of a government shutdown, it is worth diverting our attention to some other places in the country that are shutting things down.

One such place is Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, where an increasingly aggressive group of student “protesters” have been on a mission to destroy the First Amendment.

The environment at Evergreen got so bad, including heated protests and a threat to execute people on campus, that the school had to suspend operations from June 1 to June 5, which were days that the last of its spring term classes were to be held. A literal shutdown.

Campus activism, and college kids acting like foolish children, is nothing new. But there is something insidiously different about this situation, and it is a phenomenon that we are seeing more frequently every year.

It is no longer enough to protest and demand action. Now, a bullying, threatening mob of young people — and not just at Evergreen — are demanding dissent be intimidated into silence, because certain opinions are, to them, simply invalid and unworthy of protection.

The concept of respecting another’s right to free speech, and the validity of disagreement in our society is something that is less and less prevalent in the young people of today.

In a recent Gallup survey, a full 27 percent of college students reported a willingness place restrictions on those “expressing political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups.”

The Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of millennials believed that the government should be able to prevent people from making public statements that are offensive to minority groups. Yes, the government empowered to restrict speech.

But let’s get back to Evergreen.

Problems began there when a campus tradition called the “Day of Absence” was changed. The Day of Absence is a longstanding, respected event which has been conducted since the 1970s. It involves minority students taking a leave from the school for a day, and attending programs off campus.

It harkens back to a play by Douglas Turner Ward, where white residents in a southern town awake to find that all of the black community members have disappeared, forcing those who remained to confront the necessity of their black neighbors in their lives.

This year, however, the event was reversed. White students, staff and faculty were invited to leave the campus.

Professor of biology Bret Weinstein, a self-described “strong progressive,” objected to the change and refused — under intense pressure from students and faculty — to participate, saying in an email published in the student newspaper, “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles … and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away.”

“On a college campus,” Weinstein wrote, “one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.”

This infuriated a select group of students, who branded Weinstein — again, a self-described progressive — a racist. They then interrupted a class of his to confront him, and demand his resignation for criticizing the changes to Day of Absence. The video of the confrontation is shocking, and the acerbic, bloodthirsty vitriol of the students is palpable.

After the confrontation, Weinstein was forced to hold classes off-campus, as campus police informed him that they were not able to guarantee his safety at the college.

The next day, about 200 students stormed the president’s office and occupied it, swearing at him while presenting a list of demands, including, of course, Weinstein’s firing, and a homework exception for the days of demonstrations.

The president later gave a speech responding to the demands, enabling the mob by giving in to their homework exception, complimenting them as “courageous” and having “passion and courage.” He also agreed require “sensitivity training” for all employees and students of the college.

That wasn’t enough, of course.

Students at the college who are not involved in the protests are terrified. Speaking to Vice, a liberal news magazine, one student refused to use her full name and reported an intense fear of articulating any kind of “nuanced opinion,” lest she be be attacked by the mob.

This isn’t healthy, folks, and our ability to say so should have nothing to do with left-right politics. The professor being attacked here is a liberal, on one of the most left-leaning, activist college campuses, in one of the most progressive states in the country.

Four thousands students can not and should not be held hostage and intimidated by the harsh bullying of overzealous thought police on campus, and none of the adults should cower in the corner, in fear of saying that this is wrong.

LePage might not have a budget to veto Friday if lawmakers fail to cut a deal today

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

It’s the day of reckoning in Augusta.
We’ve been giving you updates on the state budget process day after day and ticking off a number of deadlines by which lawmakers must act or cause a government shutdown. Today marks perhaps the hardest deadline yet.
The six-member conference committee formed by legislative leaders two weeks ago has to reach a deal and vote it out today — or perhaps early Thursday — in order to give legislative staff time to draft a revised budget bill that the House and Senate can vote by the end of the week and sent to Gov. Paul LePage. To take effect on Saturday, it must pass both chambers with two-thirds majorities.
The real deadline looms at midnight Saturday, when the current fiscal year ends and the next one begins with or without state government in operation. To avoid a shutdown, everything needs to fall into place perfectly and efficiently, though there is little indication that opposing factions in the Legislature are poised to reach the needed compromise.
Even if they do, we’re within the 10-days window that LePage is given in the Maine Constitution to act on it — which means there could be a shutdown whatever the Legislature does. The governor predicted a shutdown yesterday in a radio interview.
This is very, very late in June for there to be no budget deal, though there have been a couple of 11th-hour saves in the past. According to information provided by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, budget negotiations have dragged into late June several times since 1967, when state government shut down for one day until the budget was in place on July 1.
In 1991, the fight was over reforms to the state workers compensation insurance system. State government was out for 16 days until a deal was struck on July 17. Democrats tried to force through a one-year budget but then-Gov. John McKernan, a Republican, vetoed it on July 1.
The next two budgets after that were also doozies. They were enacted on June 30 and June 29 in 1993 and 1995, respectively. Since then, the latest negotiations have gone was June 17 two years ago. LePage vetoed that budget but the Legislature had time to return to Augusta and override the veto.
As has been reported by the Bangor Daily News and others, a state shutdown wreaks havoc across Maine in many ways. In 1991, there were at times thousands of protesters in and around the State House as lawmakers negotiated. There was a camp or protesters across the street in Capitol Park and the rhetoric was furious, including chants of “we want [McKernan’s] head.”
“At first it may have been a little bit of adrenaline rush, or kind of fun thing to do, but that didn’t last very long. They got very serious and very angry,” John Hale, a former BDN State House reporter who covered the 1991 shutdown, told Kasadi Moore, a BDN intern, by phone Monday. “By the end of it, they were kind of a menace to the safety of the Legislature, and they were yelling, and some of them had air horns … They were blowing them just as the legislators went by, and at least one legislator claimed he lost part of his hearing because of that. Others ones would spit on the legislators. It was not a pretty scene at all.”
This year’s State House protests have been modest until Tuesday, when the hallway between the House and Senate was clogged with sign-waving Mainers. Despite being told by building security officers not to chant, they often did. If there’s anything good about it, it’s that so far they are not demanding anyone’s head.
“Respect our votes” is the mantra, though many of the protesters said they were urged to attend Tuesday’s rally by the Maine People’s Alliance, which is one of the groups that championed the 3 percent surcharge for education that is at the center of this year’s disagreement.
All the ingredients are present for a repeat of 1991. Canopies have already been set up at Capitol Park. There is no obvious path toward success for negotiations. Democrats, Republicans and the governor have all drawn hard lines in the granite. July 2017 is looking like another doozy. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • Gov. Paul LePage is in Washington, D.C. today to talk energy with President Donald Trump. LePage’s office hasn’t released details of the trip, but we can read about some of them in Politico. Trump has proclaimed this week “Energy Week” and he’s set to host LePage and fellow Republican governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska along with local and tribal leaders for a discussion on energy. He left yesterday and is expected back on Thursday. The governor told WVOM yesterday that he’ll be monitoring Maine’s budget situation from afar. — Michael Shepherd
  • A bill that could bring new jobs to Aroostook County is flying through the Legislature. A bill introduced just last week to appropriation $1.5 million over the next two years to the Loring Development Authority of Maine for the refurbishment of buildings and equipment was approved 119-14 in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. The bill would take the money from the Maine Technology Institute. Officials at the authority, which oversees redevelopment of the former Limestone Air Force Base, have signed a binding letter of intent with an undisclosed aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul company. Truckloads of equipment have already begun arriving at Loring. The bill, which was submitted by LePage, is sponsored by Rep. Harold Stewart, R-Presque Isle, and is co-sponsored by a number of senators and representatives from northern Maine. It faces further votes in both chambers. The Loring Commerce Centre already hosts about 20 businesses employing roughly 800 people. — Christopher Cousins
  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s bill to promote family logging businesses has been wrapped into a larger forestry bill. Poliquin presented his Future Logging Careers Act earlier this year to allow Mainers as young as 16 years old to work in family logging operations, as long as they are properly supervised. Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, sees the bill as a way to help family businesses and to fill job vacancies across the forestry sector. Current law mandates that workers be at least 18 before they can handle most logging equipment. The Professional Logging Contractors of Maine estimate that there are at least 7,000 logging jobs in Maine and that virtually all of them are in family-owned businesses. Poliquin’s bill has been swept into the larger Resilient Federal Forests Act, which seeks to reduce the risk of wildfires and improve the health of federal forests. That act won bipartisan approval Tuesday from the House Committee on Natural Resources. — Christopher Cousins
  • State Treasurer Terry Hayes announced Tuesday that the state has returned more than $18 million in unclaimed property to Mainers in fiscal year 2017. That breaks the 2016 record of $16.1 million, according to a news release. The unclaimed property results from incorrect addresses, misspelled names and dormant accounts that are submitted to the treasurer’s office by Maine businesses. More than $25 million in unclaimed property was identified in fiscal year 2017, which ends Friday. At present, there is still more than $232 million in the unclaimed property database. Some of that could be yours to claim, which you can do easily and quickly by searching your name (or those of potentially very grateful friends and family members) by clicking here. Here’s your soundtrack. Christopher Cousins
Today in A-town

Today looks like it will be just about the end of the line for 2017’s session in the House of Representatives and Senate, which have plans to finish most, if not all, business today — except, of course, that sticky wicket that is the budget.
Most importantly, the six-member budget committee plans to meet in the afternoon, but no time was set as of the Daily Brief’s 9 a.m. deadline. It’s unclear what they’ll do.
But they essentially have two options — vote out a budget to send to the Legislature or extend their work, which is scheduled to end today. Neither is a great option since little consensus on well-documented sticking points and there’s little time to punt to tomorrow.
The biggest thing left to decide on the floors is the fate of ranked-choice voting, which Maine’s high court has ruled unconstitutional. The Democratic-led House kept it alive yesterday when it voted to keep the law for primary and congressional elections. The Senate has voted to scrap the law entirely. Both chambers may consider it again on Wednesday. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list ‘At least somebody’s having fun’

Rep. Jeff Hanley, R-Pittston, brought some levity to the House floor Tuesday, on a day when a shutdown loomed over the Legislature, by announcing that “it seems that my housecat has been entertaining boyfriends and I have a litter of kittens.”
“So, if anyone in three or four weeks is in the market for a nice, new friend, be sure and contact me,” he said, prompting laughter and applause in the chamber.
“It might be out of order for me to suggest that at least somebody’s having fun,” retorted a budget-weary Gideon.
Here’s his soundtrack. And here’s hers. — Michael Shepherd
With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.
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Analysis: Republicans now burdened by promise to repeal Obamacare

Press Herald Politics -

For Republicans, Obamacare was always the great unifier. In a fractious party, everyone agreed that the Affordable Care Act was the wrong solution to what ailed the nation’s health-care system, with too much government and too little freedom for consumers.

Replacing Obamacare has become the party’s albatross, a sprawling objective still in search of a solution. The effort to make good on a seven-year promise has cost the Trump administration precious months of its first year in office, with tax restructuring backed up somewhere in the legislative pipeline, infrastructure idling somewhere no one can see it and budget deadlines looming.

Republicans have been here before on health care, on the brink and scratching for votes. The House eventually found a way through this political and substantive maze. Now it’s left to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to find the puzzle pieces and President Trump, perhaps, to supply some muscle, lest the party be forced to admit failure on the party’s top legislative priority.

Was it only Monday that Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, boldly declared there would be no turning back this week, that the Senate health-care bill would be put to a vote before lawmakers leave for the July 4 recess? “I am closing the door,” he tweeted. “We need to do it this week.” So much for that.

If it was a bluff by the leaders, other Republican senators called it. McConnell, a shrewd legislative poker player, quickly folded Tuesday. Instead of moving forward, the bill is now on ice. The original Senate leadership plan called for negotiations in secret by a small group, springing the results on the other members and forcing a quick vote before outside opponents could mobilize. Instead, the calculation that time was of the essence crashed into the reality of vote counting. The new calculus is that delay is better than defeat.

But will more time help to melt away the opposition? It did in the House, after the sudden and spectacular collapse of the leadership’s bill hours before a scheduled vote in late March. By early May, after weeks of negotiations between Freedom Caucus conservatives and members of the less-conservative Tuesday Group, the House approved a bill. The president was so hungry for even a partial victory that he held a ceremony of celebration with House members in the Rose Garden. Later, he privately and then publicly called that House bill “mean,” and it was left to the Senate to make amends.

In a worst-of-all-worlds environment, Republicans continue to struggle with what they’re selling, beyond the stated goal of repealing or revising the Affordable Care Act. Whatever overarching arguments they hope to make on behalf of their legislation have been lost in a welter of competing claims and demands among senators with different priorities and dissimilar ideological viewpoints.

The Republicans’ major selling point is that Obamacare is collapsing. Even Democrats acknowledge weaknesses with the current law, though some Democrats have accused Trump and Republicans of deliberately trying to make those problems worse. McConnell said Tuesday that a Republican solution will be superior to the status quo. Exactly how, Senate Republicans haven’t been able to say.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put a dagger in the Senate GOP’s efforts. The CBO analysis said the Senate bill would result in 22 million more Americans without health care than under current law, just 1 million fewer than the House bill. Reductions in Medicaid spending pose another obstacle, particularly to Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

The CBO report wasn’t all bad news for the senators. The Senate bill would save significantly more money than the House bill, giving McConnell and company funds to use to ease the opposition of some senators. But money alone won’t resolve all the differences, particularly among those who want to see the Affordable Care Act largely dismantled. It will be a tedious, though not impossible, process to find the votes.

McConnell was always prepared to tweak the first product that emerged from weeks of closed-door discussions. He was willing to make immediate adjustments to woo and win over the holdouts. He was prepared to do that before the bill hit the floor this week. He was ready to see it changed further through amendments on the floor.

But the timetable proved to be too ambitious. The resisters wanted changes – and several demanded more time. That was a toxic combination that McConnell could not overcome. Echoing Trump, McConnell acknowledged the complexity of the task. Such legislation often takes longer to put together than people think, he said. That was a game way of saying he’s on to Plan B, with no guarantees of success.

Health care has highlighted the divisions within the party. After the House vote, Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., resigned as co-chair of the Tuesday Group due to unhappiness with the deal he made with conservatives. On Friday, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a vulnerable incumbent facing reelection next year, announced that he could not vote for the Senate bill in its current form. Trump’s political action committee announced that it would mount an advertising assault on him, which began Tuesday. That kind of intraparty hardball could only make Heller weaker.

The health-care fight has left the president frustrated and at times looking helpless. He is torn between his desire for the ultimate victory and the many things he said about the subject during his campaign and even since, such as that he wants coverage for everyone. He has reduced all that to saying he wants something with heart. Does a bill that reduces coverage as significantly as the CBO says the Republican bills would do meet that definition?

The Republican Party’s health-care objectives haven’t changed, nor have the principles upon which Republicans want to create the new health-care system. It’s the details that they haven’t mastered. House leaders had one advantage over McConnell and the Senate: a larger margin for error. McConnell can’t afford to lose more than two Republicans. The road ahead will test him as perhaps never before.

If successful, Republican lawmakers will have a second test, which will be to sell their alternative to the public. The Affordable Care Act split the country, with supporters and opponents in hardened camps through most of the Obama administration. Today, Obamacare has become more popular, according to recent polls. In contrast, early measures of the Republicans’ plans show minimal support and sizable opposition.

What are the party’s options? Fail and be held accountable by a conservative base that for years has been promised that Obamacare would be gone once the GOP held power. Pass something that looks like either the House or Senate bills and be left with the potential political consequences of being accused of eliminating coverage for 20 million more Americans.

Rep. Chaffetz urges stipend to help lawmakers pay for D.C. housing

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON — On his way out of Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz gave many District of Columbia residents another reason to gripe Tuesday when he called for members of Congress to receive a housing stipend of up to $30,000 a year.

Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chaired the committee that has oversight of the nation’s capital, said federal lawmakers have trouble stretching their $174,000 salaries to cover housing in Washington, which he called “one of the most expensive places in the world,” and homes in their congressional districts. “I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz told The Hill, which first reported his stipend proposal. “In today’s climate, nobody’s going to suggest or vote for a pay raise. But you shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest … to serve properly in Congress.”

The idea lit up Twitter as people who think members of Congress are paid plenty, thank you very much, recalled Chaffetz’s comment earlier this year that low-income people could afford their own health care if they would scale back spending on things such as “that new iPhone they just love.”

“Chaffetz makes $175K/yr, wants extra $2500 for housing stipend. But others need to evaluate if they can afford the luxury of an iPhone? Ok!” tweeted Adam Best of Austin.

As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz, who is retiring this week, tried to reverse the District’s assisted-suicide law, opposed its legalization of marijuana, suggested lopping off part of D.C. and folding it into Maryland.

Opinion podcast: Is a state shutdown inevitable and a millennial bristles at avocado toast

Press Herald Politics -

Is the state shutdown the inevitability that the governor assumes it to be? Editorial page editor Greg Kesich and columnist Bill Nemitz forecast the financial and political fallout from the closure of state services and halting of payroll. They also examine the purpose of the American Health Care Act and how U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ public opposition could affect negotiations.  (Since we recorded, Collins announced her dissatisfaction with the bill and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the vote until after the July 4 recess.)

Also in this episode, reader Victoria Hugo-Vidal joins Kesich to talk about her letter explaining millennial economics and personal finance. Her frank and funny personal writing earned her the May Letter Writer of the Month crown, which now comes with the offer of a podcast appearance.

Related Stories:

LePage says he believes the government will shut down Friday

Maine Voices: Senate health care bill will put older Mainers, cancer patients at risk

Letter to the editor: Forget avocado toast—many millennials barely surviving

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Maine Senate votes to repeal state’s new ranked choice voting law

Press Herald Politics -

AUGUSTA – The Maine Senate voted to repeal the state’s first-in-the nation statewide ranked choice voting law that was approved by voters last November.

The 21-13 vote comes after the state’s high court gave an advisory opinion that ranked-choice voting for members of the Legislature and the governor’s office did not comply with Maine’s constitution, which calls for those offices to be selected by a plurality of voters.

Supporters of the law said the Legislature should move to implement parts of the law that applied ranked-choice voting to congressional elections, which was not found unconstitutional by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, and to send a constitutional amendment question back to voters. But opponents of the law have argued that implementing two different types of voting systems in Maine will be both costly and confusing for the state and municipal voting officials and volunteers.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate had more than 50 percent of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidate, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

The Maine House of Representatives was expected to take up the repeal bill later Tuesday.

Unlike a constitutional amendment, which needs two-thirds support, the repeal bill only needs majority support in the Legislature to be approved.

This story will be updated.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

sthistle@pressherald.com

Twitter: thisdog

Lacking support for health care bill, Senate Republican leaders delay vote

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders bowed to pressure from within their own ranks Tuesday and postponed a vote to overhaul the Affordable Care Act until after the July 4 recess, raising doubts about their ability to fulfill one of their party’s core political promises.

The delay, which now exposes lawmakers to a barrage of lobbying as they face their constituents over the holiday, has left a measure orchestrated to pass swiftly this week now teetering in the balance. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had little choice after five Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said they could not support a move to bring up the bill this week in the wake of a new budget analysis of the bill’s impacts.

Conservatives are blasting the plan for leaving too much of the existing law in place, while a coalition of patient advocates, doctors and senior citizens’ groups have joined Democrats in decrying its proposed cuts to the Medicaid program and rollback of taxes imposed on the wealthy.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, McConnell said leaders were “still working to get 50 people in a more comfortable place” on what he described as “a very complicated subject.”

“But we’re going to press on,” he said. “We think the status quo is unsustainable.”

Republican leaders, who had sought to pass legislation they just released Thursday within a few days so the House could take it up and send it to President Trump before the Fourth of July break, are now bracing for attacks from both ends of the political spectrum.

On Tuesday, Club for Growth President David McIntosh, who has clashed with Republican Party leaders in the past, issued a statement saying the proposal “restores Obamacare.”

“Only in Washington does repeal translate to restore,” McIntosh said. “And while it’s hard to imagine, in some ways the Senate’s legislation would make our nation’s failing health-care system worse.”

Meanwhile, progressive groups began laying the groundwork to attend senators’ public events, while medical providers and groups representing Americans with chronic illnesses predicted that the bill could leave millions without access to adequate medical care. The Congressional Budget Office concluded Monday that the measure would cause an estimated 22 million more Americans to be uninsured by the end of the coming decade while reducing federal spending by $321 billion.

Atul Grover, executive vice president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, told reporters that he and other doctors “take it personally” that the bill would lock people out of insurance for six months if they go for 63 days without a health plan and try to sign up for one the next year.

“We’re there at the bedside,” Grover said, adding that none of his members would be willing to tell a patient: “I’m sorry about your stage-four cancer. Come back in six months, when your insurance kicks in.”

In the wake of the setback, Trump invited Republican senators to meet with him in the White House’s East Room to discuss next steps. With Vice President Mike Pence ready to cast a tiebreaking vote on the measure, Republican leaders can lose only two of their 52 members to pass the bill, which no Democrat is willing to support.

Sitting between two of the bill’s holdouts – Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine’s Collins – the president said Republicans are “getting very close” to securing the votes they need even as he acknowledged that they might fail.

“This will be great if we get it done,” Trump said. “And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like – and that’s OK. I understand that very well.”

Members who publicly opposed the bill had faced a full-court lobbying press from party leaders, but resisted it anyway. Within the past two and a half days, Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, has spoken with Trump, Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke by phone with Trump on Monday and was scheduled to meet with him Tuesday before the vote was scuttled.

Johnson said he was “grateful” that the vote was postponed, adding that the “real deadline” would arrive when the ACA insurance markets collapse.

But other Republicans, such as Sen. Patrick Toomey, of Pennsylvania, acknowledged that the delay could just as easily jeopardize the bill’s prospects. More time, Toomey said, “could be good and it could be bad.”

Organizers at numerous “Resistance” groups, chastened by their premature celebrations after the House’s repeal push seemed to stall, said that they’d use the recess to ramp up public pressure on Republicans. CREDO Action, which had organized 45,000 phone calls to Senate offices, planned to increase that number when senators went home. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, MoveOn and Daily Action were organizing their own phone banks, while Indivisible groups were organizing visits – and perhaps sit-ins – at local offices.

All of that would supplement under-the-radar but attention-grabbing TV ad campaigns from AARP, Protect Our Care and other progressive and industry groups. The goal, said activists, is to educate voters and break through to local media, which had not often put the development of the Senate bill on front pages or newscasts.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that while “the fight is not over,” he was confident that Republicans would not succeed because their proposals remain unpopular with the public.

“The Republican bill is rotten at the core,” Schumer said. “We have a darn good chance of defeating it, a week from now, a month from now, a year from now.”

Senate leaders had been working with undecided senators to determine whether any skeptics could be won over with additional spending on priorities such as expanding incentives for health-savings accounts favored by conservatives or a fund to help battle opioid addiction favored by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Leaders can spend about $188 billion on increased spending without running afoul of Senate budget rules.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, the leaders had not earned the votes of the two members, who put out a joint statement in opposition to the current proposal.

“As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers,” Capito said.

In a sign of how pervasive opposition to McConnell’s plan was, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., usually a reliable Republican vote, tweeted after the bill was delayed: “The Senate health care bill missed the mark for Kansans and therefore did not have my support.”

Senate leaders had hoped to salvage the effort by using the CBO’s estimates of deficit savings to allocate additional funds to try to ease some members’ concerns.

But the release of the 49-page CBO report late Monday afternoon provided a formidable hurdle for the bill. No new senators immediately said they would back the legislation, and Sens. Johnson, Paul, Collins, and Mike Lee, of Utah, signaled that they would vote against starting debate on the bill in its current form. A fifth senator, Dean Heller, R-Nev., had expressed his opposition last week and has not shown subsequent signs of changing his mind.

Collins, a moderate Republican, tweeted that the measure would “hurt the most vulnerable Americans” and failed to solve the problems of access to care in rural Maine, where, she wrote, “hospitals are already struggling.”

Several Republican senators said they devoted the bulk of Tuesday’s lunch to questioning representatives from the CBO on their methods and estimates. Senators complained that the estimates provided in Monday’s reports used old data about how many people were covered through Obamacare and how much their coverage cost. Others asked that CBO analysts begin the process over with fresh numbers.

“They’re using the March 2016 insurance market,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “A lot of what they do is just guessing.”

The CBO estimated that two-thirds of the drop in health coverage a decade from now would fall on low-income people who rely on Medicaid. And among the millions now buying private health plans through ACA marketplaces, the biggest losers would roughly parallel those under legislation passed recently by the House: The sharpest spike in insurance premiums would fall on middle-age and somewhat older Americans.

According to the latest report, the Senate bill would mean that an estimated 15 million fewer Americans would have coverage next year, compared with the number if the ACA, commonly called Obamacare, remained in place. At the end of the decade, the 22 million increase in the ranks of the uninsured would include 15 million low-income Americans who would otherwise be on Medicaid and 7 million with private insurance.

That figure, about 1 million less than the House bill, would be equivalent to all the residents in 16 states – Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming – losing health coverage.

Problems with Trumpcare start with its meanness

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

Given that he celebrated with House Republicans in the White House Rose Garden after they passed Trumpcare, it was rather odd when President Donald Trump recently told a Fox News interviewer that the bill was “mean.” Trump was contradictory, but correct.

There is meanness in what Trumpcare would do to people’s health but it will also damage the economy and people’s dreams.

When it comes to cutting coverage, Trumpcare’s damage extends from premature babies in neonatal units to seniors in nursing homes.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House after the House pushed through a health-care bill in May. Jabin Botsforth | The Washington Post

This looming harm made me think of Bert, a veteran and small businessman who is a relative of mine. He grew up on his family’s farm during the Great Depression until times got so bad they lost it. Bert enlisted in the Navy during World War II and would have been part of the invasion force of Japan if the war hadn’t ended. He then came home, went to college on the G.I. Bill, got married, bought a house, started a business and raised his children.

Then medical problems arose that stressed his family and finances. Bert’s wife was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As it progressed, Bert took on caretaking and his business suffered. Eventually his wife died in her mid-50s. As he aged, his financial cushion, hurt by his wife’s medical bills, proved inadequate. When he went to a nursing home, Medicaid — which pays the bills for two-thirds of nursing home patients — paid his.

Just in the next year, 15 million would lose insurance coverage, according to Table 4 in the just released Congressional Budget Office report on the Senate bill. Mind you, this is compared to what would happen under Obamacare. In the next 10 years, 22 million would lose coverage and losses would continue to rise because Medicaid would be inadequately funded. Premiums for older low- and middle-income Americans would rise sharply.

Under the Senate’s version of Trumpcare, plans could be sold that don’t cover expensive treatments. If someone was in the hospital and missed an insurance payment, they would lose coverage for six months. Caps on coverage in some states would bring back the pre-Obamacare system in which some cancer patients lost coverage right in the middle of chemotherapy.

If Trumpcare was signed into law, people wouldn’t just suffer financial harm from big bills. Some would die because they didn’t get a screening or a treatment. That’s reality, not rhetoric.

A Tennessee study found Medicaid cutbacks were associated with higher rates of breast cancer and a New England Journal of Medicine review of many studies showed coverage saves lives.  Beyond Medicaid cuts, which affect seniors, the disabled, children and low income adults, Trumpcare also cuts help for people buying private insurance.
Beyond that meanness, Maine’s economy would take a big hit. An analysis by the Maine Center on Economic Policy found that Trumpcare would cause 10,000 jobs to be lost, in part because  rural hospitals would be under great strain and some would close.

Trumpcare also threatens freedom of opportunity. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, Medicaid cuts would strain state budgets. This “would severely harm college students twice — denying health insurance to millions of students in postsecondary education and forcing policymakers to fill the enormous Medicaid holes in their state budgets by decreasing funding for public colleges and universities.” Many people think students can just stay on their parents’ plans but not all parents have coverage now and fewer would if Trumpcare passed.

White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s suggestion that able-bodied adults who qualify for Medicaid can get a job with health benefits ignores the reality that many jobs don’t come with health insurance. Some using Medicaid are self-employed and Trumpcare would thwart these entrepreneurs.

Now Trumpcare’s fate lies in the Senate as the House of Representatives is likely to adopt whatever the Senate passes. Rep. Bruce Poliquin voted for Trumpcare once already, before hearing how many would lose insurance.  His Bangor office then became literally less accessible to constituents.

In contrast, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King oppose Trumpcare. On Monday evening, Collins announced her decision, pointing to big coverage losses, damaging Medicaid cuts and harm to rural hospitals. Collins’ opposition is well-placed because these are fundamental flaws with the legislation, which is more than mean.

LePage says he believes state government will shut down Friday

Press Herald Politics -

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he believes the Legislature won’t be able to reach a deal on the state’s next two-year budget by the end of the month and parts of state government will be forced to shut down.

“I’m making plans,” LePage said. “I believe we are going to shut down Friday night.”

Legislative leaders, meanwhile, appeared no closer to reaching a budget compromise on Tuesday morning as the state careened closer to the first government shutdown in more than a quarter-century.

“It feels embarrassing and unconscionable to me, as the Speaker of the House, to be in that position and to put the people of Maine and state employees in that position,” House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said during a grim-faced meeting of the six-member committee charged with striking a budget deal.

With less than 100 hours remaining before a government shutdown, the negotiating parties were still engaged in political maneuvering and posturing.

Gideon said she was prepared to grant House Republicans their calls for a vote on the budget proposal they offered with LePage’s backing. But with the $7 billion proposal facing certain defeat, House Republican negotiators withdrew their demands for a floor vote and, instead, called for continuing talks. Yet LePage continues to cast a large shadow over negotiations, despite the fact that lawmakers could enact a budget without his support by overriding his veto.

Gideon said the governor threatened to exercise his right to hold the budget for 10 days – thereby triggering a government shutdown – unless Democrats send him a budget he supports. As a result, Tuesday morning’s budget conference committee ended with all four caucuses pledging to work together but with clearly frayed nerves after weeks of unsuccessful, closed-door negotiations and no clear path forward.

“This is not a game,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. “This is having a real impact on human beings, and that includes thousands of state employees.

Under the Maine constitution, state government shuts down if the Legislature and governor don’t pass and sign a budget by Friday. If a shutdown occurs, LePage said he would use his executive powers to keep some operations going to protect state properties and allow the state to continue to collect tax revenues. He said state parks would remain open because he was concerned about vandalism. He also said public safety would be a priority and state law enforcement officers would likely be deemed essential.

Speaking during his weekly call-in to the Ric Tyler and George Hale talk radio show on the Bangor-based station WVOM, LePage said he has asked lawmakers since January to do no harm to the state’s economy. But Republicans and Democrats are at an impasse over how to increase funding to public schools and whether to repeal a voter-approved 3 percent surcharge on household income over $200,000.

The governor said he’s moved his top line on spending for the budget from $6.8 billion to $7.05 billion, but Democratic negotiators want spending in the range of $7.2 billion. LePage also said he wants the next budget to include substantial education reforms, including a policy moving Maine toward a statewide contract for all public school teachers and encouraging school districts to save money by sharing administrative and management functions.

“I’ve tried, I’ve worked very, very hard but what they want is impossible to deliver, without hurting our state for a decade,” LePage said. “They just want to break the backs of the Maine people and I can’t let it happen under my watch.”

He said legislative leaders have asked him about the cost of a shutdown and he said his answer is simple: “The future of Maine, the future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, estimated the parties are only $40 million apart, adding it would be “a travesty” to allow a shutdown over such a small difference in a $7 billion budget.

“I know that we are all passionate about our positions and there is nothing wrong with that,” Thibodeau said. “But we should not allow our passion about our positions keep us from coming together to solve this problem over the next 24 to 48 hours.”

LePage made his comments to the radio station just before he heads to Washington, D.C., later Tuesday to meet with President Trump and other Republican governors on energy issues and the opioid crisis.

In Augusta, members of the state employees labor union were gathering in the hallways outside of the House and Senate chambers alongside supporters of the 3 percent tax surcharge to fund education.

LePage also said that lawmakers concerned about property taxes have ignored his proposals to stop providing property tax exemptions to public land trusts and other nonprofits that hold large tracts of land and property. He also revealed some of the other sticking points between negotiators and said while he agreed to a sales tax increase of .25 percent, he would do that only if the Legislature eliminated Maine’s estate tax and allowed state government to at least study how much property had been removed from the tax rolls for nonprofits such as land trusts.

“They did not put that part in it and when we corrected them, everything fell apart again,” LePage said.

He said Maine’s Democratic Party was “a wholly owned subsidiary” of several advocacy groups, including the liberal Maine People’s Alliance, the Maine Education Association teachers’ union, the Natural Resources Council of Maine and the Maine Municipal Association.

“They just don’t care about the Maine taxpayer,” LePage said.

LePage later took to Facebook urging Mainers to contact their lawmakers and used his weekly radio address to also discuss the possibility of a government shut down, again laying blame on Democrats even as he accused them of trying to blame him for closing government.

But Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, said that the House Republican caucus “seems to want it both ways” by not engaging in negotiations but then resisting Gideon’s plans to hold an up-or-down vote on the LePage-backed proposal. Gideon, meanwhile, ended Tuesday morning’s budget committee meeting by pointing out that the Legislature has approved the past two biennial budgets over LePage’s veto.

“We will be voting out a budget this week. Everyone should have that expectation,” Gideon said. “I hope it will be a budget that can pass on the first round. If it doesn’t, the committee on conference will continue to meet again, and again, and continue to create budgets until we get our job done. There is no other choice for us.”

This story will be updated.

LePage: ‘I believe we’re going to shut down Friday night’

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday it’s worth putting state government into a shutdown to ensure that the two-year state budget lawmakers are struggling to pass won’t harm Maine’s economy for the next decade.

LePage, speaking during a radio interview on WVOM, accused Democrats of backing measures that will “do damage” to the state, namely preserving the 3 percent surtax on income above $200,000 a year, which was approved by voters in a November 2016 referendum to funnel more revenue to public schools.

He also said Tuesday that he would not accept any last-minute proposals to increase other taxes and that any budget presented to him would have to address what he claims is the negative impact of land conservation on property taxes.

“I believe we’re going to shut down Friday night,” said LePage. “They asked me last night, what’s the cost of shutting down? The future of Maine. The future of Maine is worth shutting it down.”

Timing is what gives LePage new leverage in this stalemate. From a process perspective, LePage’s veto threats are largely irrelevant because the state budget needs two-thirds support in both chambers to go into effect by Saturday. That’s the same threshold the Legislature would need to overturn a gubernatorial veto.

However, LePage has said that he would hold the budget for up to the full 10 days the Maine Constitution gives him to review bills, which could trigger a shutdown no matter what the Legislature does.

LePage said non-starters for him are the preservation of the surtax or a General Fund budget with a bottom line in excess of $7.055 billion for the two-year cycle beginning July 1. However, LePage is still pushing for major policy reforms in the budget bill, some of which have already been rejected this year by the Legislature. They include a statewide labor contract for teachers and consolidation of schools’ administrative structures — which he and House Republicans have not budged on for weeks.

On Tuesday, he added another item: launching a review of Maine property that is not taxed, namely land in conservation, with the goal of moving some or all of it back onto the property tax rolls. He also dug up another policy goal he’s had for years and which has been repeatedly turned back by the Legislature: allowing people to start working in Maine at age 14, instead of 16 under current law. LePage argued Tuesday that those younger workers are needed in the state’s hospitality and tourist industries.

LePage suggested that the Legislature enact the House Republicans’ version of the budget bill, with the policy changes, and said he and the Legislature could return to the school funding issue in the future if the reforms don’t work. Absent that, he put his opposition in black and white.

“I just know what I’m going to do and they’re playing chicken with me,” he said. “I’m the worst guy in the world to play chicken with because I don’t veer either way. I go straight ahead so if there’s a collision to be had, it’s coming Friday night.”

During Maine’s last shutdown in 1991, state workers camped on the lawn of Capitol Park in front of the State House. They are taking a more pre-emptive approach this year, and pressure may build in Augusta on Tuesday, when the Maine State Employees Association has scheduled a “day of action” to lobby lawmakers on the budget. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits
  • LePage has signed a bill to reinstate the tip credit for restaurant wait staff. We told you yesterday that the bill awaited the governor’s signature, but Krysta West, a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans, said Tuesday that LePage has actually signed the bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, as expected. It will roll back part of the minimum wage referendum passed by voters in 2016 that began to phase out a lower base minimum wage for tipped workers. Starting in 2018, their minimum base wage will again be half of Maine’s hourly minimum as long as tips boost them to the normal threshold of $9. — Michael Shepherd
  • A who’s who of Maine Democrats will appear at a Maine People’s Alliance event in Portland on Thursday. The progressive group is bringing prospective 2018 candidates and activists together at the Maine Irish Heritage Center. The roster includes Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and Lee Auto Malls Chairman Adam Lee, who are two prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidates, along with lobbyist Betsy Sweet, a declared Blaine House candidate. Maine Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash, state Sen. Shenna Bellows of Manchester and prospective 2nd Congressional District candidate Jonathan Fulford of Monroe will also be there.— Michael Shepherd
Today in A-town

There’s a busy day on tap at the State House today — as there should be when we’re four days from a government shutdown.

  • The special budget committee went in today just before 9 a.m. Meetings of this six-person committee usually reflect progress out of closed-door meetings between legislative leaders, but there were still plenty of divides between them on Monday and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, opened the meeting by say little progress had been made and that it is “embarrassing and unconscionable” that Maine stands 87 hours from a shutdown. She said the committee originally planned to vote a budget out of the committee today, but that now doesn’t look likely.
  • Ranked-choice voting may start on a path toward death. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the voter-approved law unconstitutional last month and it quickly looked like the Legislature would move to repeal it. A bill from Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, could run in the Senate on Tuesday, although a spokeswoman for him said it’s uncertain. A constitutional amendment from Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth, to allow ranked-choice voting failed to get two-thirds support last week in the House and could be killed today for good with a vote in the Senate.
  • Twelve LePage vetoes are up for votes in both chambers. Most of the vetoes to be dealt with today — eight in the House; four in the Senate — are minor. Two of the bills would affect foreclosure law and two others would implement recommendations from the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on oversight of economic development programs.

That’s just a quick summary, with lots of bills up in the House and Senate. Tool through them on your own, though. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list People need another racket

I was shooting hoops with my boys last night. We were playing HORSE and unfortunately for me, the 6-year-old was piling up letters on me.

I don’t know where his competitiveness comes from, but whenever he sank a basket he turned to me and yelled “people need another racket!” Some memory cue deep inside me almost came to the surface, but not quite. All I could think of is there are no rackets in basketball. Then he sunk another shot.

“People need another racket!” he said. “Pump up the volume, dance dance.”

Suddenly I knew what he was saying, or singing as it turned out. “Put the needle on the record.” Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Analysis: Many wouldn’t sign up for health coverage because of Senate bill’s high costs

Press Herald Politics -

Most people are focused on how many people would lose insurance under the Senate bill compared to current law: an estimated 22 million, according to the new Congressional Budget Office analysis. But the report digs deeper into the kind of insurance that people, especially poor people, would be able to access – and finds that it would be so financially burdensome with high deductibles that many people would choose not to sign up.

Trump has criticized the insurance currently offered in the exchanges – not only for sky-high premiums, but also because “deductibles are so high that it is practically useless.”

Because of fundamental changes in how the Senate bill would provide support to people, those deductibles are virtually guaranteed to grow.

The Senate bill proposes providing federal assistance for premiums based on a benchmark plan that is fundamentally less generous than the status quo. What that means is that the assistance is calculated based on a plan shifts a greater portion of health care costs on to the person through deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs. The bill also winds down federal payments that had significantly brought down lower-income Americans’ share of their deductibles and co-pay.

Here’s how CBO explains it: A 40-year-old who makes $26,500 a year in the year 2026 would pay an annual premium of $1,700 under the current law, for a plan that covers 87 percent of their health care costs. That same person would pay an annual premium of $1,600 a year – slightly lower – but for a plan that picks up only 58 percent of their health care costs.

Another change the bill makes is to extend the premium assistance to people who make less than the federal poverty level, while effectively phasing out the Medicaid expansion that allowed adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level to be eligible. Today, in states that expanded Medicaid, eligible people would typically pay no premiums and have few out-of-pocket costs. Since states are likely to curtail their Medicaid enrollment as they face budgetary pressure, this would leave a growing number of poor people the option to buy their own insurance with the tax credits.

But health policy experts have been skeptical about whether that insurance would be attractive to people.

Here’s how CBO described the conundrum for someone who makes $11,400 a year in 2026: they’d benefit from tax credits and pay only $300 a year in premiums for their insurance. But their deductible would be more than half their annual income. Buying a more generous plan – with a deductible that is a third of that person’s income – would cost $1,700 a year.

“Many people in that situation would not purchase any plan … although some people with assets to protect or who expect to have high use of health care would,” the Congressional Budget Office report states.

Translation: Healthy people who don’t think they’ll use health care much won’t bother signing up, seeing that they’d be on the hook for thousands of dollars of medical costs even if they had insurance. And that means mostly sick people will be motivated to sign up for insurance – a pattern that insurers have already complained makes the business of selling insurance untenable.

Sen. Collins to vote against motion to advance Senate health care bill

Press Herald Politics -

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she will vote against advancing the Senate health care bill.

Collins issued three tweets voicing her opposition to the bill Monday night.

“I want to work with my GOP and Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA (Affordable Care Act). CBO (Congressional Budget Office) analysis shows Senate bill won’t do it. I will vote no on motion to proceed,” she tweeted.

Her other tweets mention how the CBO forecasts that 22 million fewer people would have insurance by 2026 under the Senate bill than if the ACA remained in place, and that Medicaid cuts will hurt America’s most vulnerable. Collins also tweeted that the Senate bill “doesn’t fix ACA problems for rural Maine. Our hospitals are already struggling. One in 5 Mainers are on Medicaid.”

Collins joined several Senate Republicans who came out publicly to say they will not support a procedural motion to consider the bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

By expressing opposition to the bill in its current form, Collins and her fellow Republicans have put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chances of getting the bill through the Senate this week in doubt. With Republicans holding a 52-48 edge in the Senate, McConnell can only afford to lose two votes. As of Monday night, four senators have said they would not support the motion to proceed to a vote on the bill.

As state’s budget clock runs out, lawmakers only inch closer to deal

Press Herald Politics -

AUGUSTA — State House leaders said Monday they intend to take a vote on the state’s next two-year budget this week, but they also made it clear they haven’t bridged the divide between Republicans and Democrats over public education funding.

Under the Maine Constitution, state government will shut down if the Legislature and Gov. Paul LePage haven’t passed and signed a budget by Friday. The budget will likely be just over $7 billion.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said House Democrats and Senate Republicans were still about $25 million apart on how much to increase public school funding and were also still in disagreement over how to pay for it. Republicans want to repeal a 3 percent surcharge on household and small-business income over $200,000 that was added to the state’s tax code by voters last November. The surcharge was meant to help the state fund 55 percent of public school costs, also a voter mandate from 2003 that has never been reached by the Legislature.

Gideon said she and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, met with Republican Gov. Paul LePage on Saturday and again on Monday. Gideon said the meetings were polite and cordial, but she didn’t sense LePage was backing away from any of his earlier demands.

“We are trying to engage in conversations with anyone who can help us close this budget,” Gideon said, noting that Republicans in the House minority were insisting that LePage had to sign off on any deal before they would back it.

LePage leaves for an overnight trip Tuesday to Washington, D.C., where he is expected to meet with President Trump and others on energy issues.

Jackson said he believed LePage was closer to Democrats than their Republican colleagues when it came to the overall amount of any education funding increase and that he felt the conversations, including some weekend text messages between himself and LePage, were helpful toward moving people closer to a deal the governor would support.

LePage has said he would veto any budget that didn’t repeal the surcharge or that spent more than $7 billion over the next two years. It takes a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature to override a veto.

“I can’t swear on the Bible or anything like that, but I think right now with the parameters the governor has given us we have come forward and responded to that, and I think that if we could get the votes in the House and Senate I think the governor would sign it,” Jackson said.

LePage’s original budget proposal presented to the Legislature more than six months ago kept the 3 percent surcharge in place but also dramatically lowered Maine’s top income tax rate, effectively eliminating the surcharge while moving the state to a flat income tax rate of 5.75 percent by 2020. LePage funded the income tax cut by expanding Maine’s general sales tax to a broader range of goods and services while slightly increasing the sales tax on hotel lodging in an effort to push more of the costs of government onto out-of-state visitors and tourists.

It was unclear and Jackson didn’t say if part of what was now on the table included some of LePage sales tax ideas.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said no matter where the Legislature landed on the budget, public schools were going to see a record increase in funding. Thibodeau also said his caucus was largely opposed to any increases in income, sales or property taxes in order to increase funding for public schools.

Both Gideon and Thibodeau, who control what comes to their respective chambers for a vote, said they expected there would be votes on a budget bill later this week.

If state government shuts downs, it will be up to LePage to determine which state workers remain on duty to provide essential services, such as public safety and prison staffing. Monday was the deadline for state agencies to submit proposals to the governor’s office for identifying essential workers in their departments.

 

Senate Republican health care bill would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026, report forecasts

Press Herald Politics -

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans’ bill to erase major parts of the Affordable Care Act would cause an estimated 22 million more Americans to be uninsured in the coming decade — 1 million fewer than similar legislation recently passed by the House, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The forecast issued Monday by Congress’s nonpartisan budget scorekeepers also estimates that the Senate measure, drafted in secret mainly by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and aides, would reduce federal spending by $321 billion by 2026 — compared with $119 billion for the House’s version.

The CBO’s analysis has been awaited as a crucial piece of evidence as McConnell of Kentucky and other Republican leaders try to hurry a vote on the bill this week. But they are navigating an expanding minefield of resistance from their own party’s moderate and conservative wings, while Democrats are united against it.

Several moderates, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have said they will decide whether they can support the Better Care Reconciliation Act based on how it will affect Americans who have gained coverage under the ACA during the past few years, while their conservative colleagues are focused on its impact on the federal deficit.

Collins said on Twitter on Monday evening that she will vote against a motion to advance the bill.

I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA. CBO analysis shows Senate bill won’t do it. I will vote no on mtp. 1/3

— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) June 26, 2017

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, in a statement, said, “This score is further proof that this bill will do more harm than good. This bill will drastically increase the cost of coverage for older, working-class Maine people; put health insurance out of reach altogether for many others; and significantly gut Medicaid, forcing states to choose between serving the elderly or the disabled – all to give tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Simply put, this proposal is wrong for the country and this score should be just another reason on the long list of many for why we should abandon this bill and, instead, make meaningful improvements to the Affordable Care Act.”

Steve Butterfield, public policy director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care, an Augusta-based advocacy group, said the CBO report shows that not only would 22 million lose insurance, but that premiums and deductibles would “skyrocket.”

“This is not a salvageable piece of legislation, Butterfield said.

The fresh figures come as President Trump, in a sharp pivot from the praise he initially lavished on the House bill, is urging the Senate to provide Americans more generous help with health insurance. On Sunday, the president repeated during a “Fox and Friends” TV appearance a word he had used in a private White House lunch earlier this month with a group of Republican senators: that the House’s version is “mean.”

The CBO has been regarded over its four-decade history as a source of neutral analyses devoid of political agenda. Its current director, Keith Hall, is a conservative economist who served in the administration of President George W. Bush and was appointed to his current role two years ago by a Republican Congress.

Nevertheless, senior Trump aides have repeatedly sought to cast doubt on the budget office’s credibility. “If you’re looking at the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on the March day that the budget office issued its cost estimate of a preliminary version of the House Republicans’ health-care legislation.

While they differ in important details, both the Senate Republicans’ plan and the American Health Care Act narrowly passed by House Republicans in May share the goal of undoing central aspects of the sprawling health-care law enacted by a Democratic Congress seven years ago.

Both bills would eliminate enforcement of the ACA’s mandate that most Americans carry health insurance, relying on subtler deterrents to keep people from dropping coverage. The House version would let insurers temporarily charge higher rates, while the Senate added a provision Monday that would let health plans freeze out customers for six months if they let their coverage lapse.

In different ways, both would replace federal subsidies that help the vast majority of consumers buying coverage through ACA marketplaces, instead creating smaller tax credits that would provide greater assistance to younger adults while making insurance more expensive for people from middle age into their 60s.

After two years, both also would end subsidies that now help about 7 million lower-income people with ACA health plans afford deductibles and copays. And both would repeal an array of taxes that have helped to pay for the ACA’s benefits, including levies on health insurers and on wealthy Americans’ investment income.

For the Senate bill, the CBO’s estimates of insurance coverage and federal spending are influenced by the fact that its forecast covers a 10-year window and the legislation’s most profound changes for the nation’s health-care system are tilted toward the latter part of that period.

The bill would, for instance, leave in place the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid through 2020. After that, it would begin a three-year phaseout of the federal money that under the ACA has paid almost the entire cost of adding 11 million Americans to the program’s rolls in 31 states.

That means the extra funding wouldn’t disappear until the mid-2020s — roughly when sharp new restrictions on federal payments for the entire Medicaid program would take effect.

Over the weekend, the senior Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that oversees the CBO said in a tweet that he had asked the budget office to estimate the Senate bill’s effect on insurance coverage over a longer time horizon. “GOP is hiding the worst Medicaid cuts in years 11, 12, 13 and hoping CBO stays quiet,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

LePage signs bill to restore tip credit to minimum wage

Press Herald Politics -

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage has signed into law a bill that restores the tip credit to the state’s minimum wage law.

The law change, which allows employers to pay tipped employees half the state’s minimum wage, partially repeals a ballot measure passed by voters in November that boosted Maine’s minimum wage in steps to $12 an hour by 2020. The law also removed the tip credit, requiring employers to pay all workers the minimum wage.

The restoration of the tip credit still requires employers to make up the difference in tipped employee pay when their weekly tips are not equal to what they would earn under the minimum wage.

The bill, L.D. 673, goes into effect on Jan. 1, when the state’s minimum wage under the new ballot law will increase from $9 to $10 an hour.

LePage urged lawmakers to restore the tip credit and asked the Legislature to repeal a portion of the ballot measure that requires the minimum wage after 2020 to be adjusted for inflation each year based on the Consumer Price Index.

The tip credit is largely used by restaurants and bars where food servers and bartenders work mostly for tips from their customers.

While some servers testified against restoring the tip credit, dozens of waiters, waitresses and bartenders testified in favor of the change in April during a 12-hour public hearing on the bill. They told lawmakers they usually made far more in tips than the $12 per hour promised by the new minimum wage and that patrons generally were tipping less as they were confused by the law change.

 

LePage tells Legislature to vote for his budget or there will be a shutdown

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where we think it’s safe to start your government shutdown clock — if you have one — after a Friday meeting between Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature’s top Democrat that has only inflamed partisan tension at the State House.

A Democratic account of that meeting was circulating around Facebook over the weekend, saying the Republican governor told House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, that the only budget proposal he’d sign if passed was the one presented by House Republicans last week.

If that proposal wasn’t adopted, it said LePage told Gideon that he’d take all of the 10 days that he’s allowed to veto it — which would force a shutdown because Maine’s next fiscal year begins on Saturday — and “he will leave the state” and blame a shutdown on Democrats.

“I urge all of you to reach out the Governor’s office, and House Republican leadership, to tell them this is unacceptable,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick. “We were sent here to pass a budget and it’s time for them to stop making threats.”

A Gideon spokeswoman confirmed the account of the meeting, but LePage spokespeople didn’t respond to questions about it sent on Monday morning. But this power play is very believable.

House Republicans pitched their proposal, which would add $125 million in education funding over the last two-year budget cycle and repeal the voter-approved surtax on high earners earmarked for school funding, in tandem with LePage as one that the governor would sign.

However, it got a frosty reception from Democrats when it was presented on Thursday. They’re wary of education reforms that it contains, including a pilot program for a statewide teacher contract that the Democratic-led House defeated in bill form last week.

Before that, Gideon was blaming House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, for not seriously engaging in budget discussions and risking a shutdown, but the Maine Republican Party turned the tables on Gideon with that argument over the weekend.

In an email to supporters, the party blamed Gideon for weak leadership that puts her “on the brink of the greatest leadership failure in Maine in a generation.”

They also noted that 58 rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers have already pledged to oppose any budget that doesn’t have a progressive, sustainable source that enables Maine to fund the voter-mandated threshold of 55 percent of basic education costs. Gideon’s latest counter-offers to Republicans have fallen short of that mark.

One of the leaders of that pledge, Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, said early last week that there are likely 20 House Democrats who would have “questions” about a budget that doesn’t reach that. But he stopped short of saying they would shut the government down over it and faulted House Republicans for holding out.

The blame game over a shutdown is likely to play out for the rest of the week, barring some breakthrough in negotiations. If it goes any longer than that, we’ll actually have a shutdown. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits
  • Knox County Dems’ gubernatorial forums lead off this week with Mark Eves. Among the rumored but unconfirmed Democratic gubernatorial candidates is former Speaker of the House Mark Eves of South Berwick. Eves, who during his time in the Legislature was one of Gov. Paul LePage’s chief political enemies, has always been coy about his plans to run for governor but has looked like he’s preparing a bid for the Blaine House since at least last summer, when he held a 10-stop listening tour around Maine even though he had only about six months left in his House term. The chatter around him hasn’t stopped and now, he leads off a schedule of potential candidates who will address the Knox County Democratic Committee. Eves is scheduled to address the group 7 p.m. Thursday at Watts Hall, 170 Main St., Thomaston. Also speaking to the committee between now and Aug. 10 are Betsy Sweet, Patrick Eisenhart and Adam Cote, all of whom have declared their candidacies. — Christopher Cousins
  • New protections for medical marijuana patients who need organ transplants will become Maine law. The bill from Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, was in response to problems faced by Garry Godfrey of Milford, an Alport syndrome patient said he was taken off a kidney transplant list at Maine Medical Center in 2012 because he used medical marijuana. Then, he said he became addicted to prescription pills and attempted suicide before continuing marijuana use, which he told a legislative committee allowed him to function daily. Sanderson’s bill will prohibit transplant evaluators from finding a patient unsuitable for a transplant solely because of marijuana use. Paul McCarrier, the president of Legalize Maine, a group of small medical marijuana producers, said on Friday that LePage allowed the bill to become law without his signature last week. — Michael Shepherd
  • LePage now controls the fate of a bill to restore Maine’s tip credit. The issue has been under debate since January — or really, since voters approved Maine’s minimum wage law in November 2016 — and finally came to a conclusion last week. Maybe. Last week, the House and Senate enacted a version of the bill unanimously after earlier votes of 110-37 and 23-12, respectively. The tip credit allows employers to pay tipped workers less than the minimum hourly wage, based on the premise that tips would elevate their earnings to at least the minimum hourly wage. Critics of the 2016 ballot question that eliminated the tip credit and applied the hourly minimum wage to all workers say it adds costs to employers already working with tight margins, forcing them to hire fewer people or cut benefits. LePage has 10 days, beginning last Thursday, to sign the bill, veto it, or let it go into law without his signature. The governor has boisterously supported reinstating the tip credit, but supporters in the Legislature failed to muster a two-thirds majority in the Senate to enact the bill as an emergency measure, meaning it now would not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. That will be too late for some tourism industry employers who had hoped the change could be in place during their busy summer season. — Christopher Cousins
Today in A-town

The House and Senate do not return until Tuesday, and the committee calendar is bare. Other than trying to simultaneously avoid and prepare for a government shutdown, State House denizens appear to have a quiet day on tap.

It’s unclear whether the special budget committee will meet today. If they did, it would likely reflect some semblance of progress. We don’t expect to see them until late afternoon or the evening, if at all on Monday. — Robert Long and Michael Shepherd

Reading list Maine needs a Ministry of Magic

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” the first of J.K. Rowling’s iconic seven-part series of novels about a child wizard and his freaky, magical pals. The title was changed to “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” when the book was released in the United States, as the publisher figured we Yanks would not buy a book with “philosopher” in the title.

The Potter series became an international sensation, and is widely credited with inspiring a new generation of readers. It’s certainly more entertaining than reading legislative sentiments. I covered a midnight release of the fourth book in Brunswick, in which hundreds of kids and their parents — many with temporary lightning bolt forehead tattoos or other embarrassing wizarding paraphernalia —  stormed a bookstore in the middle of the night to seize their copies. I also chaperoned a read-athon the night the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” was released. I fell asleep while two dozen kids, while locked in a library, tore through more than 700 pages to find out what became of the characters with whom they had grown up.

The anniversary sparked some conversation among the Daily Brief crew about which Maine political figures most resemble characters from Harry Potter. We came up with a decent list, although we were not unanimous in our choices. During these contentious times, Maine has quite a few Voldemort wannabes. Certain political leaders could be either the spunky Hermione Granger or the diabolical Dolores Umbridge, depending on which side of the aisle you sit.

And we’ll just sidestep discussions about which Maine politicians belong in the Weasley family. The one clear pick is our own Michael Shepherd as the Harry Potter of Maine politics. And there is strong consensus for Christopher Cousins as the friendly giant Hagrid of Maine politics. We invite you to share your suggestions at politics@bangordailynews.com.

Here’s your soundtrack, but it will cost you if you want us to share the spell that will get it out of your head. –– Robert Long

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Loan of $285 million to Kushner company before election could be scrutinized

Press Herald Politics -

One month before Election Day, Jared Kushner’s real estate company finalized a $285 million loan as part of a refinancing package for its property near Times Square in Manhattan.

The loan came at a critical moment. Kushner was playing a key role in the presidential campaign of his father-in-law, Donald Trump.

The lender, Deutsche Bank, was negotiating to settle a federal mortgage fraud case and charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. The cases were settled in December and January.

Now, Kushner’s association with Deutsche Bank is among a number of financial matters that could come under focus as his business activities are reviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Kushner as part of a broader investigation into possible Russian influence in the election.

The October deal illustrates the extent to which Kushner was balancing roles as a top adviser to Trump and a real estate company executive. After the election, Kushner juggled duties for the Trump transition team and his corporation as he prepared to move to the White House.

The Washington Post has reported that investigators are probing Kushner’s separate December meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, a state development bank.

The Deutsche Bank loan capped what Kushner Cos. viewed as a triumph: It had purchased four mostly empty retail floors of the former New York Times building in 2015, recruited tenants to fill the space and got the Deutsche Bank loan in a refinancing deal that gave Kushner’s company $74 million more than it paid for the property.

The White House, in response to questions from The Post, said in a statement that Kushner “will recuse from any particular matter involving specific parties in which Deutsche Bank is a party.” Kushner and Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

Deutsche Bank loans to Trump and his family members have come under scrutiny. As Trump’s biggest lender, the bank supplied funds to him when other banks balked at the risk.

Democrats from the House Financial Services Committee wrote on March 10 that they were concerned about the “integrity” of a reported Justice Department investigation into the Russian money-laundering matter “given the president’s ongoing conflicts of interest with Deutsche Bank,” citing “the suspicious ties between President Trump’s inner circle and the Russian government.”

The Justice Department did not respond to a question about whether it is following up on the money-laundering settlement that Deutsche Bank reached with New York regulators in December.

On May 23, the Democratic members asked Deutsche Bank to disclose what it had learned in its internal review about whether Trump may have benefited from the improper Russian money transfers. The bank refused, citing U.S. privacy laws.

The Democratic letter also raised the possibility that the bank had conducted a similar review of Kushner – without mentioning his name – by referring to a review of accounts “held by family members, several of whom serve as official advisers to the president.”

The Deutsche Bank deal was one of the last Kushner orchestrated before joining the White House. It is among the dozens of complex transactions that he was involved with during his decade in the real estate business.

Although Kushner divested some properties in an effort to address potential conflicts, he retains an interest in nearly 90 percent of his real estate properties, including the retail portion of the former New York Times headquarters, and holds personal debts and loan guarantees.

LGBT pride parades take on new urgency in the Trump era

Press Herald Politics -

SAN FRANCISCO — Tens of thousands of people waving rainbow flags lined streets for gay pride parades Sunday in coast-to-coast events that took both celebratory and political tones, the latter a reaction to what some see as new threats to gay rights in the Trump era.

In San Francisco, revelers wearing rainbow tutus and boas held signs that read “No Ban, No Wall, Welcome Sisters and Brothers” while they danced to electronic music at a rally outside City Hall.

Frank Reyes said he and his husband decided to march for the first time in many years because they felt a need to stand up for their rights. The couple joined the “resistance contingent,” which led the parade and included representatives from several activist organizations.

Activists have been galled by the Trump administration’s rollback of federal guidance advising school districts to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. The Republican president also broke from Democratic predecessor Barack Obama’s practice of issuing a proclamation in honor of Pride Month.

At the jam-packed New York City parade, a few attendees wore “Make America Gay Again” hats, while one group walking silently in the parade wore “Black Lives Matter” shirts as they held up signs with a fist and with a rainbow background, a symbol for gay pride.

Others protested potential cuts to health care benefits, declaring that “Health care is an LGBT issue.”

“I think this year is even more politically charged, even though it was always a venue where people used it to express their political perspectives,” said Joannah Jones, 59, of New York with her wife, Carol Phillips.

She said the parade being televised for the first time gives people a wider audience. “Not only to educate people in general on the diversity of the LGBTQ community but also to see how strongly we feel about what’s going on in office.”

In Chicago, 23-year-old Sarah Hecker was attending her first pride parade, another event that attracted wall-to-wall crowds. “I felt like this would be a way to not necessarily rebel, but just my way to show solidarity for marginalized people in trying times,” said Hecker, a marketing consultant who lives in suburban Chicago.

Elected officials also made a stand, among them New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said his state would continue to lead on equality.

Cuomo, a Democrat, on Sunday formally appointed Paul G. Feinman to the New York Court of Appeals.

Feinman is the first openly gay judge to hold the position. But the pride celebrations also faced some resistance from within the LGBT community itself. Some activists feel the events center on gay white men and are unconcerned with issues including economic inequality and policing.

In Minneapolis, organizers of Sunday’s Twin Cities Pride Parade initially asked the police department to limit its participation, with the chairwoman saying the sight of uniformed officers could foster “angst and tension and the feeling of unrest” after a suburban officer’s acquittal this month in the deadly shooting of Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop.

The city’s openly gay police chief called the decision divisive and hurtful to LGBT officers. On Friday, organizers apologized and said the officers were welcome to march.

There were scattered counter-protests and a few disruptions, including a small group in New York urging parade-goers to “repent for their sins.”

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