Gov. Paul LePage blasted Maine’s two U.S. senators Tuesday for their recent votes against a health care overhaul package backed by Senate Republicans.
LePage, who previously said he also opposed the Senate Republican bill that was defeated last week, said during a Tuesday radio interview on WVOM that independent Sen. Angus King and Republican Sen. Susan Collins did not represent Maine’s interests when they opposed the legislation, which failed when 51 senators voted against it.
Early Friday morning, King joined Senate Democrats and three Republicans, including Collins, in voting against the so-called “skinny repeal,” a last-ditch effort by Senate Republican leaders to give President Donald Trump a political victory before the August congressional recess.
The vote has left the future of Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act uncertain.
LePage called the votes by King and Collins “disgusting,” implying the senators were more interested in national exposure than representing Maine residents.
“Sen. Collins and Sen. King, please, we know you’re on a national stage but please do us a favor and think of the Maine people that need affordable health care, need to have lower deductibles and need to have high risk pools so people with pre-existing conditions don’t get penalized,” LePage said Tuesday morning. “You both need to help the Maine people. That’s what we elected you to do.”
Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, said in a written statement that Collins was “surprised” by LePage’s “change of heart on the Senate health care bill, which he previously opposed.” Clark says Collins is convinced her vote was right for Maine.
“The Senate bill would have increased deductibles and jeopardized protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” said Clark. “Ironically, the governor agrees both of these outcomes would be harmful for Maine.”
King’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
LePage called King a “spender” and said Collins “did not do her homework” prior to the vote.
Clark said Collins met with “countless people” in Maine before deciding which way to cast her vote.
As he has before, LePage suggested that federal legislation include provisions from a 2011 Maine law known as PL 90. That law created a high-risk pool for people with certain medical conditions and funded it with $4 monthly fees on all health insurance policies. It also allowed people with pre-existing conditions to buy the same insurance plans as everyone else without higher premiums.
However, it allowed insurers to charge older Mainers premiums up to three times higher, and opponents said PL 90 offered skimpier coverage and in some cases doubled the amount of out-of-pocket costs for consumers.
PL 90 was in effect for only about 18 months before the Affordable Care Act superseded it.
On Tuesday, LePage accused Collins of a lapse in judgment, though he said overall he has “great admiration” for her.
“When she’s well briefed on an issue, most of the time she will take a reasonable vote,” LePage said. “When she’s not familiar with what’s happening in her state and she’s looking at the national stage and only the national stage, she makes a lot of errors.”
Last month, Collins criticized the Senate Republican plan for a number of reasons, including proposed slashes to Medicaid that she said would threaten the existence of some Maine hospitals and nursing homes. She’s also expressed qualified support for Medicaid expansion — which LePage has vetoed six times — if Maine emulated a model implemented in Indiana when Vice President Mike Pence governed that state.
LePage continued his withering attacks on King, fanning rumors that he would challenge the incumbent in the 2018 election. LePage said a Bangor Daily News report published on Monday about a weekend appearance by LePage in Somerset County might push him toward a run. The report resulted from a video provided to the BDN from an attendee who did not want to be identified.
“The article in the BDN yesterday really got me a lot closer when I found out where the source was,” LePage said. “It was a Republican who is raising money for another campaign. That helps me make my mind up when that level of character is in a national race.”
LePage has not filed as a candidate with the Federal Election Commission, and in May his political adviser issued a statement saying he would not run. However, in recent weeks, on radio interviews in which he expressed frustration with congressional inaction, LePage has dusted off the idea that he would run against King.
Eric Brakey, a state senator from Auburn, is the only Republican to have announced he will challenge King in 2018.