Congressional Incumbent Chellie Pingree On The Affordable Care Act, Reaching Across The Aisle

Oct 12, 2018

Incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree faces two challengers in November in Maine’s 1st District. Maine Calling Host Jennifer Rooks asked her what she believes is the biggest issue facing her district.

This is an excerpt of “Maine Calling” from Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. To listen to Chellie Pingree’s full appearance, click here.

Pingree: Well I think it’s kind of a duel, it’s a combination. Health care costs continue to rise and because of the Republicans’ continued movement to attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act — I think we had 60 votes where they’ve tried to get us to repeal it and then it hasn’t passed — but they have been constantly undermining it and we really need a system that works so it’s affordable for Maine businesses and families. We have to make sure that they do not repeal the provision that allows you to have health care with preexisting conditions. I just think the general cost for that, they’re an issue for Maine businesses and families, and I think it’s part of the overall economic issues that people struggle with. While we’ve seen an improving economy in the state of Maine the gap between those doing really well and those still struggling continues to grow and there’s a lot of work we can do to fix that.

Rooks: What if anything should be done about the partisan divide in our nation?

Chellie Pingree speaks in Portland at a rally against repealing the Affordable Care Act, Jan. 15, 2017.
Credit Ed Morin / Maine Public File Photo

Pingree: Well there certainly is a partisan divide and I think people have gotten very, very frustrated watching Washington and often a Congress that can’t get anything done. Today is a unique day and all eyes are on a whole different issue around the U.S. Supreme Court. But in the House of Representatives with Republican control we have been frustrated because so many of their rules and procedures don’t allow for a back and forth and the ability to work together. I will just say that in spite of what people see sometimes on the headlines and TV talk shows, I feel that there are many opportunities for members like me to work across the aisle. I have a lot of Republicans that I work with. We share many of the same beliefs on veterans issues, on the cost of prescription drugs, on agriculture issues, even some on the environment and so to say that there is never a working together of Republicans and Democrats would be wrong. And I feel it’s something I work really hard on because it’s important to have those relationships and to get things done.

Rooks: Should access to affordable health care be a national priority? And if so, what should Congress do to ensure it?

Pingree: It absolutely should be. I mean I’ve believed for a very long time that health care is a universal right. We should have affordable health care. The idea that this has fallen into partisan politics doesn’t make any sense to me because it’s a huge economic issue. The cost of health care drives up the cost of everything else. And the Affordable Care Act that we passed really 10 years ago now wasn’t perfect, but watching the Republicans dismantle the provisions that would lower costs, increase competition, improve the quality, has been really frustrating. I’m a supporter of Medicare For All and I would like to see us have an open conversation about that. You don’t have to invent a new bureaucracy, we already know that Medicare works. And if we could expand this into more of our population we’d frankly have more healthy individuals on there, not just our seniors when we reach the ages where medical care costs more and I think we could bring down the cost.

Rooks: I’ve been asking the candidates that are not currently serving in Congress on what committee they would like to serve. So why don’t I turn the question a little bit around to you and say talk about the committees you serve on, and is there some change that you would like to make in the next session?

Pingree: I have been very fortunate to be appointed to the Appropriations Committee and frankly that generally is where you want to go when you’re in Congress. I think as we all know that how we spend our dollars, how we budget our spending, is a reflection of our values and what we care about and the Appropriations Committee actually does tend to be fairly bipartisan. While we’ve gotten horrible budgets from this administration, Republicans and Democrats have worked to put back funding, whether it’s, you know, helping communities to pay for clean water and infrastructure improvements or education funding, environmental funding, even restoring funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, which is important to a lot of institutions. So I feel very fortunate to be on Appropriations, it’s a good way to advocate for funding for many of the things that we need here in the state of Maine. And I hope I get the chance to serve there again.

This interview has been edited for clarity.