This story was updated at 2:25 p.m. to include comments from Rep. Pingree.
The Supreme Court's recent ruling to uphold the heathcare reform law's individual mandate but limit the federal government's ability to dictate states' Medicaid policy has created a rift between federal and state officials in Maine.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage has accused Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree of lying to the Obama administration regarding Medicaid reforms he has championed in the Pine Tree State. LePage has said he would seek a waiver from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from the federal healthcare law's requirement that the state needs to maintain a certain level of services, claiming the state can no longer afford the same level of generosity it has in the past.
Some of the reforms pushed by LePage would eliminate Medicaid programs impacting some elderly, disabled and other impoverished Maine residents in the hopes of saving $20 million in state money.
Following the high court's ruling, the Republican governor has intimated that his reforms are legal, but Pingree, who opposes LePage's reforms, penned a letter to Sebelius this week asking for further guidance.
"It is clear to me that the governor's proposed elimination of Medicaid coverage would not only adversely affect the health and wellbeing of Maine residents and upset Maine's local economies; it would also be in direct violation of the (maintenance of effort) requirement, even in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling," wrote Pingree.
In response, LePage distributed two letters—a scathing one to Pingree and another to Sebelius, both of which were also sent to state legislative leaders, the rest of Maine's federal delegation, as well being publicly distributed.
"Rep. Pingree's letter makes a number of claims that are, at best, misleading, and, at worst, false," LePage wrote to Sebelius. "I encourage you and your staff to put aside her opinion piece and ensure that Maine's upcoming submission receives a full, fair and equitable review, free of political interference."
In his response to Pingree, LePage accused the congresswoman of becoming "a part of the jet-setting Washington culture that keeps people dependent on government handouts."
"You insinuate that these welfare reforms are being done unilaterally, not by my administration or with Mainers' elected representatives, but by me personally," LePage wrote. "If you would like to attack me personally, fine, but it is irresponsible and a disservice to Maine people to try and hide the facts from a Secretary."
In particularly, LePage took issue with Pingree's characterization that his proposed reforms were "drastic."
"While you might not like the welfare reforms made by the Maine Legislature, it is astounding that you would actively advocate for the federal government to overrule Maine's decisions," he wrote. "Your title says that you are a representative from Maine, but apparently you prefer to represent the power of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. I challenge you to rethink your position and send a new letter to the secretary, encouraging her to work with the state you claim to represent."
Pingree responded to the governor’s accusations in a release that said she “certainly never intended for this to be a personal dispute with Governor LePage.”
But she stuck by her position.
“I know all too well the difficult budget times we are in. But I’m also not going to back down from speaking out for the 27,000 Maine people who stand to lose their healthcare coverage,” she said. “The health care reform law was debated and passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the Supreme Court. It’s time to stop fighting about the health care law and start following it.”
LePage, a combative figure propelled into office by the Tea Party movement, has made recent national headlines for claiming the healthcare reform law has turned the Internal Revenue Service into the new "Gestapo," a remark he subsequently apologized for. He also landed in the spotlight when he promised to tell President Barack Obama to "go to hell" while campaigning in 2010 and telling the NAACP to "kiss my butt."
But the issue raised by the recent in-state spat highlights the confusion—and potent politics—that still remains around the application of the healthcare law. It's something that only promises to continue to play out, as Republican governors around the country, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, refuse to participate in the federal reforms.
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.