The word “welfare” is being used often by Republicans commenting on Maine’s consideration of Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act.

In her last two news releases on the subject, Adrienne Bennett, Gov. Paul LePage’s spokeswoman, used the word “welfare” 11 times. She used either “MaineCare” or “Medicaid” — the names of the programs in question — six times.

In the text version of LePage’s Saturday radio address, “welfare” showed up three times. “MaineCare” and “Medicaid” didn’t show up.

When asked Thursday why “welfare” is used so much, Bennett said, “Because that’s what it is.”

By the word’s Merriam-Webster definition — “aid in the form of money or necessities for those in need” — Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, is welfare.

But many scholars have observed a public shift in the acceptance of the word “welfare” since the 1900s, finding the word has outgrown its literal meaning.

In a 2010 journal article, University of Pennsylvania historian Michael Katz called it “the most pejorative term in the American social policy lexicon,” adding that it is “applied in a narrow, disparaging manner.”

He said it was a positive term in the early 1900s, as it “signified attempts to professionalize and modernize old practices of relief and charity.” But in the 1960s, it “acquired the combined stigmas of race, gender, and illicit sex” as “unmarried women of color with children began to dominate public assistance (rolls)” and that characterization has lingered since.

Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Republicans are using “welfare” because it plays well to their base.

“They know the pejorative stigma that it comes with,” she said. “This is part of their message campaign because they know it’s the only way they can win.”

Bennett, however, said she is simply being direct.

“I don’t think Democrats want to call this welfare because they want to say this is free health care,” she said. “The Medicaid program is a welfare program.”

A TAX PANEL DIVIDED

A May 22 letter from the Legislature’s Taxation Committee to the budget-writing committee showed a divide on their ideal changes to Maine’s tax system.

The committee’s seven Democrats, along with a liberal independent, say they want to delay income and estate tax cuts championed by LePage and Republicans in the last Legislature, putting extra revenue in the next two-year budget.

Democratic leaders held a news conference Wednesday to say they recommend delaying the 2011 income tax cuts, a move LePage opposes.

According to the letter, two tax committee members are with him: Sen. Douglas Thomas, R-Ripley, and Rep. Roger Jackson, R-Oxford, are “on record as opposing all tax increases.”

Five other members of the committee, three Democrats and two Republicans, are strong supporters of a plan from a bipartisan group of legislators dubbed the “Gang of 11,” which would create a lower, flat income tax, broaden the sales tax base to include nearly every good and service and provide property tax relief, while aiming to raise more tax revenue from out-of-staters.

The plan is seeing opposition from left and right: Democrats say its proposed changes are regressive; Republicans note it will raise more tax revenue than the state currently takes in.

But in the letter, the Taxation Committee tells the Appropriations Committee it would “be glad to provide this information for consideration in your budget deliberations.” All of that means while the plan may not pass as a whole, parts of it could be incorporated into the budget, like the 2011 Republican cuts.

GUN CONTROL, CONTROLLED

At the beginning of this legislative session, it wasn’t unreasonable to think LePage would be a conservative gatekeeper on gun-control issues, blocking the wishes of a new Democratic majority in the Legislature taking office amid a national push for gun restrictions.

So far, gun-rights advocates haven’t needed him much.

Enough legislative Democrats have voted with Republicans to oppose measures that would require background checks before gun-show purchases, increase Maine’s minimum concealed-weapon permit age from 18 to 21, and repeal a 2011 law that prohibited employers from forbidding employees with concealed weapons permits from having such handgins in their cars at work.

While the gun-show and employer bills aren’t officially dead yet, the Senate initially voted them down Thursday in 19-16 and 20-15 votes, respectively. The concealed-handgun bill found little support in the House, getting just 40 votes. It was killed by the Senate on Thursday.

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, threw his weight behind a bill that would have banned magazines holding more than 10 rounds. It was unanimously recommended not to pass in committee. The bill is now dead. The Sportman’s Alliance of Maine’s executive director, David Trahan, attributed the success in blocking certain gun-control measures to a “groundswell” of grassroots opposition.

“We’ve done a good job keeping our members informed, but they’re the ones calling their legislators,” he said. “All across the state, gun owners, hunters and sportsmen have been involved in this debate.”

WATCHING TV

The controversial television screen outside LePage’s State House office got a more permanent location early last week — above a door leading into staff space. It remained there Friday.

Democrats, who opposed the screen when it was in a more-visible location in a hallway corner because the Legislature controls the building, didn’t seem to want to raise a stink about it in its new location.

“It looks like the governor’s one victory this session is going to be the TV,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan.

 

Steve Mistler of the State House Bureau contributed to this report.

 

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

 

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