Maine Republicans need not be ‘the party of no’

Imagine every person in Bangor clustered on the waterfront. Some stand straight. Others hold a cane or lie in a hospital bed. Some will be restless children or newborns in arms.

Now double that. This assembly would still have fewer than the number of Maine people who would benefit from Medicaid expansion.

Will they hear “yes” or “no”?

Maine Republicans are at a crossroads. Besides these real stakes for Mainers, they must decide if they will be a problem-solving party.

Nationally, Republicans’ reputations are in tatters. Poll after poll shows that Americans resoundingly disapprove of congressional Republicans.

Americans’ judgments are grounded in Republicans’ tendency to just say no.

In the U.S. Senate, tea party senators now block Senate House negotiations on the federal budget. Open judgeships and positions in the administration are left unfilled as Republicans filibuster, preventing votes.

To stop the twice-elected president from filling three vacancies on a critical appeals court, some Senate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, propose cutting those positions permanently. Yet Collins and others voted for Bush’s nominees to the same court.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives seem hell-bent on creating another debt ceiling crisis. Recently Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., acknowledged that this was the only way they could get what they want on spending and taxing. No one acknowledges that the deficit has fallen dramatically, mostly due to tax hikes, lower-than-predicted health care spending, economic growth and, to a lesser extent, budget cuts.

Supporting subsidies to highly profitable corporations, House Republicans are slashing aid to the poor and middle class. Not only do most Americans disagree with these priorities, but in 2012 most voters chose Democratic House candidates.

Pointed criticisms of Republicans have come from within the party.

Just a few days ago, College Republicans issued a report describing why young voters see the party and its candidates so poorly. The party’s “dismal present situation” includes its concentration on today’s wealthy, not on promoting opportunity. Youth see Democrats as far better on education and health care. Said the report, “We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.”

Party elders also voiced dismay with Republican policy priorities and ways of operating. Former Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole said that Senate filibusters were out of control and that former President Ronald Reagan would not have made it in today’s GOP. Dole added, “I think they ought to put a sign on the national committee doors that says ‘closed for repairs’ until New Year’s Day next year and spend that time going over ideas and positive agendas.”

Agreeing with Dole, Maine’s former Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Republican, said, “You have to work together and obviously, the Republican party is undergoing some, you know, significant and serious changes, and they are going to have to rethink their approach as a political party and how they are going to regroup and become a governing majority party that appeals to a broader group of Americans than they do today.”

Now a major governing decision — Medicaid expansion — faces Maine legislative Republicans.

In the only state poll asking whether Medicaid should be expanded, 68 percent said “yes,” mirroring similar national numbers.

Republican legislative leaders in the Maine Legislature offer opposition or stalling options.  When they held the majority in 2011-2012, they were not interested in studying different ways to expand Medicaid but now call for examining alternatives.

Some echo Gov. Paul LePage, saying that those qualifying for Medicaid after expansion could get subsidies to purchase insurance through the health care marketplace. But Republicans previously rejected Maine creating its own marketplace, a move that, in California, allowed the state to negotiate and get better prices.

In a political ploy, LePage says he’d consider expanding Medicaid only after people on a waiting list get coverage. Because he’s never offered a plan to cover them, this condition comes off as unserious as the governor’s previous unfounded claim that he could get the federal government to cover 10 years of costs rather than the three stipulated in law.

This week some Republicans joined with Democrats to support Medicaid expansion. Others must decide if they will choose to save lives and taxpayer money or say “no” to more than twice the population of Bangor.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.