In this April 27, 2019, file photo, Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, speaks in Bath. Credit: David Sharp / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature will reconvene for a special session tomorrow.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Nothing is 100 percent effective,” Peter Millard, a former epidemiologist for the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, said of an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes in Maine. “And if the staff are not vaccinated, they are going to bring it into the facility, and there will be future outbreaks.”

What we’re watching today

The junior representative from Maine’s 2nd District is at the forefront of an effort from House Democrats to expand Medicare. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, signed a letter with more than 80 House colleagues urging President Joe Biden to lower the Medicare eligibility age, add dental and vision care and allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices as part of a forthcoming bill.

“Lowering the eligibility age and improving its benefits package would provide immediate and substantial relief for millions of individuals throughout the United States,” the representatives wrote.

The letter is notable in part for who is leading it. The first four signatories include Golden, who has the most moderate voting record on economic matters of any House Democrat, according to VoteView, and U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Pennsylvania, also a centrist, alongside U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado, and Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, both of whom are associated more with the party’s progressive wing, with Jayapal serving as chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, also signed the letter.

The backing from a broad coalition of the House Democratic caucus suggests that health care expansion beyond the Affordable Care Act could drum up significant support. But Biden is not expected to include changes to Medicare as part of a plan his administration is releasing ahead of his address to Congress on Wednesday, which will include additional subsidies for the ACA alongside funding for child care and tuition-free community college, among other proposals.

The call from House Democrats to expand Medicare is similar to an effort from several Senate Democrats a few days ago, and seems like a more plausible means to expand health care than many of the proposals Democrats floated during campaigns over the past few years. Golden backed Medicare for all during his first congressional run in 2018 before backing off that last year in favor of a public health insurance option. Neither option seems likely to get through the U.S. Senate right now.

Even a smaller Medicare expansion is still likely to receive significant industry pushback, with the health insurance lobby likely to oppose lowering the Medicare age and pharmaceutical companies expected to fight any measure that would allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices through Medicare.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine keeps 2 US House seats after population grows by 35K in latest census,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The data released Monday included only state-level population totals. More detailed data, including population estimates by race and ethnicity and hyperlocal numbers used for the redistricting process, will be released by Aug. 16, the bureau said. That timeline will require Maine lawmakers to come up with a workaround as the state’s constitutionally mandated redistricting deadline is in June.”

— “Janet Mills unveils plan to use stimulus money to improve broadband,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “It would also create a new broadband authority by creating a governing board of seven members with three-year terms and vesting it with the power to bond and loan money. Mills said those changes will elevate the authority’s ability to manage how broadband is built up in the state and make it cheaper for communities to improve their service.”

— “Maine eyes creation of COVID-19 memorial,” The Associated Press: “Democratic Sen. Ben Chipman has introduced a proposal that would lead to the creation of the memorial on the grounds of the Maine State House. The proposal would direct the Legislative Council to fund and design the memorial, the Senate Majority Office said Monday.”

Efforts to close information-gathering center in trouble after committee vote

After months of build-up, the discussion around the bill itself only lasted about 15 minutes. Public outrage was sparked after a Maine state trooper accused the Maine Information and Analysis Center of illegally collecting data in a federal lawsuit. A few months later, hundreds of documents were hacked from the agency. 

But lawmakers in the Legislature’s criminal justice committee were clearly hesitant to support a measure that would have defunded the center after it faced heavy opposition from the state, police unions and even the FBI. In the end, only four lawmakers — bill sponsor Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, Rep. Victoria Morales, D-South Portland, Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, and Rep. William Pluecker, I-Warren — voted against a motion to kill the bill. 

The division in the committee was apparent before the bill was even brought to a vote. A lengthy discussion on a Department of Public Safety-sponsored bill that would require a yearly report on the center’s performance occasionally delved into the importance of the center itself and made it clear the committee was mixed on how much detail it wanted on the center’s activities. That bill passed the committee in a 7-to-4 vote.

“I don’t know enough to know that I want to do that yet,” said Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, referring to the possibility of closing the center. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

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