Farewell welfare? Or welfare, and the Duchess d’EZ Pass, fares well?

Cynthia: Mike, since we’re writing a column together maybe we should have “the talk” now and get it out of the way. I have a burning question.

Does my EZ Pass make me a welfare queen? After all, I am an able-bodied driver getting a government handout while so many hardworking Americans are paying full price to drive the Maine Turnpike.

Mike: You mean paying an optional fee (toll) for use of an expedited service (the Turnpike) with a volume discount (EZ Pass) for being a frequent customer? That sounds to me like a market-driven solution! So a welfare queen? No. But I can call Peter Mills and ask if he will appoint you “Duchess d’EZ Pass.”

Cynthia:Weren’t tax dollars used by the government to help build the Turnpike for the general welfare of society? And aren’t tolls mandatory and fair contributions by users? The Turnpike is a government-sponsored solution to a collective problem with market-like incentives — sort of like Obamacare. And really, isn’t all Gov. LePage’s talk about “welfare” just an attempt to justify his disastrous decision to rebuff the millions of dollars that would have flowed in to Maine if we expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act?

Mike: The Turnpike was built by selling revenue bonds backed by the tolls — no taxes necessary! And the Turnpike is optional; no law mandates we use it. But we should remember that Augusta sold it to Maine people on the basis that, once the capital costs were paid, the tolls would go away. Yet now, like with every government program, they got addicted to the revenue and it became self-perpetuating. Not unlike Obamacare, with the myriad of new taxes that even Democrats are voting against; yet those taxes suspiciously remain.

Cynthia:The Turnpike was a big, bold idea financed creatively by visionary politicians at a time when good governance was cool. Today, Republicans so fiercely believe government is incompetent that when elected to office they feel compelled to prove it. Exhibit A is the LePage administration and Medicaid expansion. Much to the chagrin of the GOP, however, Obamacare is working! Eight million young and old people have signed up and are paying to be insured by private companies.

Instead of being gracious in defeat, Republicans are shouting there’s a welfare boogeyman under every bed. God forbid people get too much peace of mind knowing medical bills won’t bankrupt them. The question come November is what matters more, the people’s health care or their resentment.

Mike: Obamacare is working, except for the fact that the White House keeps announcing that it won’t enforce the law because of negative impacts. And the fact that the majority of the country still believes it is a bad law. And the fact that the Congressional Budget Office now says effectively 2.5 million full-time jobs will be incentivized to leave the market and 30 million Americans will remain uninsured. But other than that Mrs. Lincoln…

Anyway, as for Medicaid expansion, does anyone really think our current MaineCare program works well? Why would you add tens of thousands of new people to a broken system? If Democrats thought of Maine and not party first, and were willing to stand with together with Gov. LePage and tell the feds, “send the check, keep the regulations,” we might be able to come and build a system that really takes care of Maine’s most needy.

Cynthia: Mrs. Lincoln would have benefited tremendously under Obamacare, and I agree:

Maine should have accepted the federal check and built a health insurance marketplace uniquely suited to meet our needs. It’s too bad Gov. LePage rejected that proposal, too. Now it’s his fear of addiction to health care that has LePage and Republicans nationally resorting to hardball, race-based politics.

Calling every government program welfare and talking about “illegals” is intended to conjure up images of freeloaders from away scarfing down lobster rolls in the minds of the angry white conservative base. LePage wants these guys off the couch and to the polls to elect more people like him who hate government. Talk about a death spiral.

Mike: It’s summer in Maine! Nothing to be angry about. However, let’s leave the immigration issue for another day — we’ll probably have more in common on that than you might expect. But immigration is yet another prime example of the failure of the feds, just like Obamacare. And try as your side might to hide it, it is not just Republicans who believe Obamacare is not the right solution. That is why they couldn’t get Olympia or Susan to vote for it, that is why 34 congressional Democrats voted against it, and it is why Nebraska’s Democratic senator wouldn’t vote for it until he got a kickback.

When will your side realize that one-size-fits-all, Washington-mandated solutions don’t work? If some of the hippies in Vermont want to try single-payer, let them! If Arkansas wants to try an actual market-driven option, good! Obamacare purports to give states all the flexibility they need, as long as they do it exactly how Washington wants or grovel for Washington’s approval. Can’t Democrats agree with Republicans that decisions made closer to home are best?

Cynthia: Mainers in cities and towns across the state voted to elect President Obama. That’s pretty close to home.

Mike: And President Obama hasn’t looked back at Maine since. But don’t worry, he’s from the government and he’s here to help!

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