Budget deficits and health coverage. Let the fun begin!

Phil: The Legislature is in session with an election year upon us. You don’t suppose there will be anything for us to opine on, do you?

Ethan: So much to choose from, so few words allowed.

Phil: How about the $119 million budget hole? I love how you guys say the governor mismanages money, and then you plead for him to help fix the budget your team (with help from a few Republicans) created.

Ethan: We created? That’s funny, I thought the chief executive was in charge. Now that there’s some trouble, it is everyone’s else’s fault?

Phil: Normally, I’d agree with you. But in this instance, the budget is truly the Legislature’s. The governor vetoed this thing after your party made it clear it wouldn’t pass what he wanted.

Ethan: That’s because he wanted to jack up property taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars. And remember, the budget passed with two-thirds support, so many of your folks supported it as well.

Phil: Very few. And most of them did it simply to avoid the shutdown gun that was being held to their heads.

Ethan: You Republicans always claim you are the party of personal responsibility, except when that personal responsibility is supposed to be taken by you. Your people were elected to serve the people, just as much as my people. Yet only my people (for the most part) actually accepted that responsibility.

Phil: I am not sure it was in service of the people to pass a budget that was out of balance the minute it passed. The number of gimmicks in the most important bill passed by the Legislature would have put former House Speaker John Martin to shame. And now we are seeing the results. “The end justifies the means” philosophy created another $119 million hole!

Ethan: Instead of the two of us becoming like the Legislature, how about we actually try to solve this latest hole without a gimmick and see if we can put the state on some solid financial footing?

Phil: Sure. But we’ll only be successful if you’re willing to accept that the solutions we seek include ideas other than simply finding ways to transfer more money from citizens to government. I’m all eyes. Go ahead.

Ethan: Repeal the income tax cuts LePage put through for the wealthy and pass the Medicaid expansion. That will both bring in enough revenue to close the gap and give our economy a huge injection of cash. Not to mention, there will be 70,000 fewer uninsured people, meaning our health care costs will drop. Win! Win! Win!

Phil: Can you at least acknowledge that money from Augusta and D.C. comes from the same source, we the people?

Ethan: Wait a minute, I thought you always said D.C.’s money comes from China.

Phil: That would be funny, if it weren’t so scary. The problem is that your solution may solve the budget math in Augusta, but it confiscates money out of the family checkbook and forces D.C. to borrow even more. How does that make sense?

Ethan: Growing the economy reduces debt. As we have seen with the stimulus, thanks to borrowing almost a trillion dollars, our economy has grown pretty steadily for the past three years. And that growth has cut our deficit in half. As you know from Wall Street, oftentimes you gotta spend money to make money.

Phil: I’m from Main Street, Yarmouth, where I lived and learned that spending money to make money was grounded in the premise that you can only be successful if the customer buys and is satisfied with your product.

Ethan: Certainly. And government spending is the same. People need to be satisfied with the education their children receive, the roads our Department of Transportation constructs, the police force that protects our families, and the regulations that keep our rivers clean.

Phil: So share with me how the existing MaineCare system is meeting that tenet, let alone justify expanding to another 70,000 to 130,000 “clients.”

Ethan: By the use of our MaineCare system, the government is meeting a deep need in the community. Patients get served, and doctors get paid. What’s wrong with that? The more people who have coverage, the better.

Phil: I share the result you seek. Everyone should have the choice of accessing health services.  And we do. We all have the ability to see a doctor. The question is, how do we pay for it? The Alexander report points out those who can’t pay cost the rest of us $800 million more in taxes.

Ethan: Don’t get me started on all that is wrong with the Alexander report (a 30 percent increase in poverty?), but your attitude that people who get health care are all take, take, take and those of us who get it through our employer (or elsewhere) are all give, give, give is what is wrong with the dialogue. We all benefit from a healthier society with lower health care costs. And we all pay into the system, even those with the lowest incomes. In fact, they often pay at a much higher rate than you or I will ever pay.

Phil: However you analyze it, the truth is someone is going to carry more costs.

Ethan: But the truth is that we are already paying, and probably at a higher rate than we would if people received coverage up front.

Phil: Wasn’t this column supposed to be about the budget deficit?

Ethan: I think we realized solving health care would be easier.

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