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State benefits while politicians feud

Special to the Herald-Guide -   Dec 01, 2011

By John Maginnis
The principle that the greater good is best achieved when all parties set aside petty differences and personal agendas often is, in real life, over-rated. Louisiana government, for instance, has been getting along quite well for years without its top political leaders getting along.

The less comity and good will that exists between Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Mary Landrieu the better the state seems to fare in critical, high-stakes decisions coming out of Washington. November alone brought Louisiana nearly $1 billion in federal largesse for future flood protection in hurricane-affected parishes and public healthcare statewide.

Yet, despite the season, there were no thanks exchanged between the two nor mention of each otherís roles in their respective press releases. Both had effectively argued that the Federal Emergency Management Agency needed to recalculate the long-term losses from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. FEMA agreed after Landrieu, who chairs the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, had language inserted in FEMAís next budget requiring the agency to address the stateís request. When FEMA announced the state was due an additional $390 million for hazard mitigation, Jindal ordered all the money to flow directly to the hardest-hit parishes.

A week later, federal healthcare officials accepted the stateís position that it should pay only 27 percent instead of 38 percent of healthcare costs for the poor. On a $6.5 billion state Medicaid program, with some adjustments, that comes to $560 million in federal funds the state would not otherwise receive in its next budget year.

For those citizens who do not use or care about the stateís Medicaid program, think about it this way: since Medicaid, like Medicare, is an entitlement, the state can reduce healthcare costs by only so much. Claims must be paid even if the state squeezes doctors and hospitals on their rates. The stateís public hospitals, by law, must treat all uninsured patients who arrive in their emergency rooms. To maintain its level of services, the Department of Health and Hospitals estimated the impact of the reduced federal match on the state general fund would have been $310 million. The effect could not have been contained wholly within DHH, but would have spread throughout the budget, cutting into K-12 and higher education.

Major credit for the cannon ball dodged goes to Landrieu, with supporting roles by state officials, the rest of the congressional delegation, even her younger brother Mitch, mayor of New Orleans. Yet the official thanks of a grateful state emanated not from the governorís office, but from DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein to the senior senator.

Perhaps Jindal was not inclined to bury the hatchet because he still felt it lodged in his back, from Landrieuís recent verbal slash that he had "fumbled" an $80 million grant to provide broadband Internet service to 21 rural parishes, which the federal government rescinded. That followed similar criticism from the senator after the governor passed on applying for a $40 million federal grant for early education. If thatís all there was between them, you might think they would get over it. But these two have a history.

Louisianaís case for the favorable Medicaid decision rested on the much-maligned provision that Landrieu had inserted in the federal healthcare law in late 2009. Landrieu was leaning toward voting for the bill but she wanted something for her state for the 60th vote the president needed. That concession happened to be what Jindal badly needed, to fix the federal rule requiring the state to pay a higher Medicaid match due to the spike in personal income from the temporary post-hurricane recovery economy. That relief came to $300 million. But when right-wing commentators Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck labeled Landrieu a prostitute for selling her vote, Jindal did not defend her and barely thanked her for bailing out his budget.

What happened this month is that the feds agreed to keep that fix in place for another year to account for the effects of Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Also staying in place are old hard feelings between the two leaders despite their shared success. Those relations have been icy rather than heatedly hostile. If they really went to trash-talking, who knows what they could achieve?

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