On Monday, Gov. Paul LePage held a caustic press conference in his cabinet room. He tried to destroy compromise.
He unleashed a tirade attacking the Republicans and Democrats who had been working most of the weekend to find a compromise solution to the mess of a budget the governor presented back in December.
While the details of the compromise hadn’t been entirely revealed, at least not publicly, the governor went on the attack. He even went so far as telling the Department of Health and Human Services to stop answering questions.
“Quite frankly, I believe this represents an abdication of their responsibility,” the governor said of the men and women who have worked hundreds of hours to fix the mess he has made of the budget and the budget process.
Despite the governor’s efforts to derail the negotiations, a compromise has been reached. The plan, to be sure, includes devastating cuts to Maine’s health care system. Thousands of people appear on the verge of losing access to medical care. That said, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee made progress toward a bipartisan budget solution that mitigates some of the governor’s worst ideas or at least limits the damage.
With the governor’s assault, it’s unclear what will ultimately happen. The governor has been pushing Republicans to ditch compromise and bipartisanship and go it alone. It remains to be seen whether two-thirds of the House and Senate can rally around the compromise.
The governor’s actions have made it much more difficult.
The governor and his administration caused the current budget shortfall — about $220 million in the current year and next — because they made mistakes in the Department of Health and Human Services budget they passed last year and because they passed massive tax cuts that they didn’t pay for.
He had proposed cutting many of the same programs last spring, but the ideas were rejected. His crisis has given him another shot.
According to reports, the compromise budget for the current year gives the governor much of what he wanted, including significant cuts in the number of people covered by MaineCare. These folks will pay the political price for Gov. LePage’s ideologically driven determination to undo the MaineCare system.
But that doesn’t appear to be good enough. The governor has taken the short-view and demanded everything today. He’ll have two more shots. One in 2013 and again in the next two-year budget.
When the Legislature returns next year, it is likely to face a new budget crisis. The cost of the governor’s tax cuts will explode to $400 million, and they haven’t been paid for. There will be scant resources for anything, especially programs like MaineCare, to which the governor has affixed a permanent target.
Regardless of what this year’s compromise looks like, Maine will be right back at the cutting and fighting next year. And that means that Gov. LePage will have another chance to finish off health care coverage for the people who might be saved this year.
For the minority of people in the state who strongly support the governor, his fighting style wins accolades. Most everyone else is left cold.
It’s a shame that during a time when our state needs to come together, we can’t count on the governor to lead the way, to offer a compelling vision for the future and develop a real plan to deliver it. He prefers division.
For inspiration, we’re left to look elsewhere, even toward a Super Bowl commercial from a car company.
“People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game,” said actor Clint Eastwood in the commercial for Chrysler.
“I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, time when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead,” Eastwood continued.
“But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.”
Given a choice, I’m buying what Chrysler is selling, even if the ad wasn’t meant to be political.
And it’s time the clunkers coming from the governor get towed to the junkyard.
David Farmer is a political and media consultant. He was formerly deputy chief of staff and communications director for Gov. John E. Baldacci and a longtime journalist. His clients include Maine Equal Justice Partners and EngageMaine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dfarmer14.