Poliquin under fire in video, audio over health care bill

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U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is under fire for his support of the contentious Republican health care legislation following the release this week of separate online video and audio involving constituents challenging him.

In a YouTube video posted Monday by the Maine People’s Alliance, a liberal advocacy group that opposes Republican-led health care efforts, Poliquin is seen visiting Nason Park Manor, a senior living center in Bangor. He’s approached by a woman asking why he voted for the House Republican health care bill. The woman was identified by the advocacy group as Valerie Walker, of Winterport.

Poliquin, a Republican representing Maine’s 2nd Congressional District who voted in favor of the House version of the legislation, doesn’t answer and asks whether she’s a resident of the facility, while a woman from his staff briefly puts her hand over the camera to block the video. Poliquin walks away to start a news conference and says he’d take questions after that. The video cuts past the news conference and as Poliquin speaks with a handful of TV reporters there, Walker starts speaking again about cuts to Medicaid and the congressman walks out of the facility.

Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, fired back at Democrats on social media who circulated the video.

“Flat out lie,” Savage tweeted in response to a People’s Alliance post saying Poliquin fled the facility.

“Bruce stayed and did press conference and interviews,” Savage’s tweet continued. “Shame on media if they buy this fake news narrative.”

Brent Littlefield, a political advisor to Poliquin, also criticized Democrats on Twitter over the video, calling it “part of your combined paid political efforts to attack the work of Congressman Poliquin.”

Meanwhile, Poliquin is one of a dozen congressional Republicans being targeted in a new campaign because of their votes for the controversial health care overhaul legislation known as the American Health Care Act. The House Majority PAC, which describes itself as the super political action committee holding Republicans accountable and helping Democrats win seats in the House of Representatives, launched a new website titled “Voices From Your District,” which features audio recordings of constituents in those 12 congressional areas admonishing their representatives for voting on the legislation.

Littlefield called the PAC website a “paid political attack” on Poliquin and said the focus instead should be on the Guaranteed Cost of Living Adjustment Act, which Poliquin introduced to compensate senior citizens and veterans with an increase in their Social Security by at least 1.5 percent in 2018. The bill instructs the federal government to sell unused, dormant government buildings and properties for additional funding to compensate for the COLA increase. Poliquin held a news conference Tuesday in Bangor to announce the bill, which is designed to compensate for yearly cost increases to basic items.

“They’re spending their time doing that; we’re spending our time trying to help senior citizens,” Littlefield said.

The website is a part of House Majority PAC’s Congressional Accountability Campaign, which targets House Republicans in a dozen districts to hold them accountable and is working to elect more Democrats in 2018. The other congressional Republicans targeted include Martha McSally of Arizona; Brian Mast of Florida; Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Jack Bergman, Fred Upton, Tim Walberg, Mike Bishop and Dave Trott, all of Michigan; and Paul Ryan, Sean Duffy and Mike Gallagher, all of Wisconsin.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine at Orono, said websites and efforts such as this one have become more common over the past few years, though efforts like it were done offline as well. Its effectiveness depends on whether it rings true for viewers.

Brewer said such campaigns possibly could affect the way a congressperson votes, but he added, “Again, it depends on how many people see this and what they do as a result.”

In the build-up to the House’s health vote, Poliquin refused to say whether he supported it, announcing his support in a conference call with reporters less than an hour before the vote. A story published by Slate days before the vote said that Poliquin walked away — initially toward the women’s restroom by mistake — from a journalist who asked for his position on the bill.

Poliquin had said the Republican health care bill represents the best parts of several previous attempts at reform and Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” former President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 legislation, the Affordable Care Act. In May, Poliquin joined a majority of Republicans in voting to pass the American Health Care Act, which the congressman has said will affect “only the 7 percent of Maine residents who have Obamacare policies.”

That claim, though, isn’t true, because the House bill also included cuts to Medicaid programs for low-income people, something that the House’s Freedom Caucus insisted upon, and Maine had about 270,000 people enrolled in the program, known as MaineCare, as of January. There also is a provision in the health bill that would allow states to let insurers charge more for customers with pre-existing medical conditions.

Senate Republicans late last month postponed a vote on its version of the legislation after several key senators, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said they oppose the proposal. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that the measure would cause an estimated 22 million more Americans to be uninsured by the end of the coming decade while reducing federal spending by $321 billion.

A major concern with the new Republican health care bill is how it would affect people with pre-existing conditions. Poliquin said one of the biggest reasons he will support the new bill is because he’s convinced it “ensures everyone will have access, even those with pre-existing conditions … at a price they can afford.”

A news release from the House Majority PAC said thousands of voters were contacted in each of the 12 congressional districts over the course of two weeks to share their health care stories.

“Rep. Poliquin and his Republican colleagues in the House had a responsibility to listen to and look out for their constituents, and they failed,” said Jeb Fain, Senior Communications Advisor for House Majority PAC. “Instead, he ignored the pleas of the people they were elected to represent and voted party-line for a bill that strips health coverage for 23 million Americans, imposes an ‘Age Tax’ that charges people over 50 more, cuts Medicaid and guts protections for pre-existing conditions. These constituents who were so generous and courageous to share their healthcare stories give voice to just how much is at stake in the fight to save health care. House Majority PAC is committed to doing its part to make these hardworking Americans’ voices heard and hold their Representatives accountable.”

Poliquin’s press secretary, Brendan Conley, said the official Congressional Office does not engage or respond to political organizations.

On the PAC’s website, three constituents left messages for Poliquin.

The House Majority PAC was formed in 2011 with the goal of addressing outside spending from people such as Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson. The group raised $56 million during the 2016 election cycle. Its website said the PAC is “making an aggressive push for the cycle in an effort to hold Republicans accountable and pick-up Democratic seats around the country.”

One of the messages for Poliquin on the website came from a caller from Hiram, who stated he has a pre-existing condition but does not elaborate. He also states he is on Social Security.

“To take away health care from people who need the insurance is wrong. It is so wrong and you ought to be ashamed of yourself for voting for it,” the man states.

Another message from a constituent stated that her daughter had cancer when she was younger and requires medical checkups. The woman said her daughter should have the same privilege to health care access as any American. A third caller said he was upset by the vote, especially since so many people in Maine need health care.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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Poliquin under fire in video, audio over health care bill

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