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Political Brew: More testing, the CMP corridor, and overturning Obamacare

At a legislative hearing this week, lawmakers grilled Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman over the handling of the historic number of claims for unemployment.

PORTLAND, Maine — This past week, Gov. Janet Mills announced an agreement with IDEXX in Westbrook, which will allow the Maine CDC to triple the number of COVID-19 tests it can perform each week. That has been one of the benchmarks that health officials wanted to reach in making plans for safely reopening the economy.

"That's a big breakthrough," says NEWS CENTER Maine Republican analyst Phil Harriman. He says the deal "could give her the path she needs to say 'let's open up, let's welcome businesses back.'"

But Harriman worries that it is too late for some small businesses to "restart their engines."

Democratic analyst John Richardson says the IDEXX deal and the creation of a long-term Economic Recovery Commission show that the governor is being more collaborative, and "makes it a more transparent process."

But a legislative hearing this week revealed the political side of the pandemic. Lawmakers grilled Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman over the handling of the historic number of claims for unemployment.

Richardson thinks this could be a preview of Republican attacks in the fall election, but he thinks things are improving.

"While people are feeling a pain right now," says Richardson, he thinks the people handling unemployment claims are "doing their best under the circumstances to address these issues."

Harriman thinks the revelation that the administration rejected an offer from Google for a $1 million deal for technology support that could have made the system more efficient is "a pretty wide opening for Republicans if this turns out to be a fiasco."

The Maine Supreme Court has cleared the way for a November referendum on the CMP energy corridor project.

Richardson thinks a vote to block the project would have the force of law. But he says "I don't think it's fatal. I think they'll come back to the drawing board after the referendum and they'll need to provide benefits to Maine."

Harriman says there could be long term repercussions for the state as it tries to attract business investment.

"The sting of how this all unfolded will not go unnoticed by many businesses around the state as they need to go through the permitting process, says Harriman. "If the project has to stop, we're going to have another massive discussion about whether this was an unreasonable taking of a project that was properly licensed."

President Trump has reiterated that his administration will proceed with efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, despite people losing their jobs and health insurance because of the pandemic.

Sen. Susan Collins says she opposes that, and believes the president should open up a special ACA enrollment period for people who lose their jobs and their health insurance.

Phil Harriman says Obamacare is very unpopular, but "I'd say to the president 'what's the alternative? You've got to put something out there that's better, simpler, cheaper than what we currently have.'"

John Richardson thinks Trump will hurt his own supporters if the ACA is eliminated, and it is being done for spite.

"I guess if you hate President Obama as much as President Trump does, and you're that jealous of his popularity, then of course this makes sense."

But Richardson adds, "It doesn't make sense, because many of Trump's supporters will be driven to the Obamacare plan as we hit a recession."

Political Brew airs Sundays on The Morning Report.

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