Former Democratic U.S. Sen. George Mitchell defended Maine’s current U.S. senators Thursday for their votes regarding the Affordable Care Act in response to Gov. Paul LePage’s prolonged criticism of their positions.

LePage has used his public speaking engagements in recent days to lambaste Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King for their votes against repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.

Since Saturday, LePage has rallied supporters at a Somerset County GOP event against Collins, ripped her and King in two radio interviews, penned a scathing commentary against them in the Wall Street Journal and targeted them in this week’s radio address.

“U.S. senators like Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are enjoying Cadillac health insurance plans while they are mandating Americans ride a moped,” said LePage in the latter. “They are so busy seeking the national limelight, they are ignoring the people in their own state.”

Members of Congress and their staffs can purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, with the bulk of their premiums covered by the government. King’s and Collins’ staffs did not immediately respond to Bangor Daily News questions about their specific health care plans and whether they had contacted LePage or his staff to ask him to correct his assertion that they have “Cadillac plans.”

In a statement to reporters on Thursday, Mitchell took umbrage with LePage’s assertions.

“I respectfully but strongly disagree,” he said. “Sens. Collins and King did in fact represent the best interests of the vast majority of Maine people.”

Mitchell, who was the U.S. Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995 and has led international peacekeeping negotiations in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, said he supports the senators’ votes because a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act “would have a severe negative effect on tens of thousands of Maine citizens” who are elderly, low income or living in rural areas.

“A large portion of Maine’s population falls within those groups,” said Mitchell.

Collins and King fired back at some of LePage’s assertions on Wednesday in a joint statement that didn’t specifically name him. One claim by LePage has been that they didn’t “do their homework” before the votes.

“After months of conversation and research, we both reached the same inescapable conclusion that the Senate health care bill would have been extremely harmful to our state, particularly to our most vulnerable populations, including children with disabilities and low-income seniors,” they wrote.

LePage said Thursday on WGAN radio that he also has objections to the latest health care bill that failed in the Senate — and that he prefers a House version — but faulted Collins and King for voting against the so-called “skinny repeal,” which would have undone major provisions of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care act, then let lawmakers work on a replacement in the future.

LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment about Mitchell’s statement Thursday afternoon.

Mitchell urged more work on the issue of health care.

“I urge Mainers to thank Sens. Collins and King and to encourage them to work together, with other senators through the normal legislative process, in a bipartisan effort to fix what’s wrong with our health care system,” said Mitchell.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.