By John Maginnis
Even in this bitterly divided Congress, bipartisan cooperation within a delegation is to be expected on issues vital to a state. So it was when Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, succeeded in attaching amendments to separate bills to direct 80 percent of the Gulf oil spill fines to the coastal states. The RESTORE Act itself, to accomplish the same goal, is stuck on the congressional calendar, so the language in the bill needs to hitch a ride on one that will pass.
Also, recently, Landrieu joined Sen. David Vitter and Congressman John Fleming, R-Minden, in writing separate letters of protest to the Air Forceís budget plan to eliminate a squadron of A-10 fighter jets at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, at a cost of 500 high-paying jobs.
Vitter and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., are working together to handle a long-awaited highway funding bill.
Congressmen Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, co-sponsored an amendment last week to increase the stateís cap on offshore revenue sharing from $500 million to $750 million per year, starting in 2023. Itís a long way off, but enough to elicit the scorn of a Massachusetts congressman, who said, "If this passes, Mardi Gras would come on the Wednesday before Fat Tuesday."
The delegationís bipartisanship has its limits, though, even when the stateís interests are involved, such as on passage of the payroll tax cut extension.
Congressman Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, Scalise and Richmond voted yes, while the stateís four other GOP representatives voted no. In giving their reasons, only Congressman Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, objected to a provision in the bill, negotiated by Landrieu, that salvaged for Louisiana $1 billion in extra Medicaid funds.
This goes back to the $700 million in Medicaid money Landrieu got for the state when she agreed to vote for the Affordable Healthcare Act of 2010. She caught unmitigated grief for that from conservatives, who accused her of prostitution. But Landrieu was solving a huge problem for Gov. Bobby Jindalís administration that grew out of the post-Katrina spike in the stateís economy, which qualified it for less in federal Medicaid matching funds. Jindal may not have liked how Landrieu got the money, but Louisiana deserved it, and he was glad to spend it.
To gradually wean the state off the added funds, Landrieu sought several hundred million more in another spending bill. She wildly over-succeeded when a congressional staff drafting error included $2.5 billion more for Louisiana over the next three years.
Once the error was discovered, congressional leadership moved to fix it through a provision in the payroll tax cut extension bill, which could have blown a big hole in the stateís next budget. Instead, Landrieu wrangled an extra $1 billion more over the next two years, on top of the $700 million from the previous two years.
Not a bad resolution for what could have been a hard blow to the state. Not good enough for Cassidy, though. He complained that among the many deals made to pass the healthcare law, Louisianaís was temporary while those for other states were not. He conceded the state is receiving $1 billion more, but that, without a permanent deal, it is being singled out.
Curious logic. Back then, Jindal and Landrieu made the case for a temporary adjustment to the Medicaid match rate to address the temporary rise in personal incomes from all the rebuilding after the 2005 storms. To have asked for more would have been piggy, and not well received. As for Louisiana being shorted, whichever senators got permanent deals for their states on the healthcare bill, few, if any, got more than $1.7 billion, temporary or not.
Dr. Cassidy has a reputation for fairness and rational thinking, so this departure could be colored by ambition. Said to be interested in challenging Landrieu in 2014, he stoked that speculation recently when he hired Jindalís consultant, Timmy Teepell, to handle his re-election campaign this year, which figures to be a cakewalk.
Teepell advises his candidates to stay on the offensive, which may or may not be behind the congressmanís stretch to poke at Landrieu for securing more funding than the state probably deserves, or that anyone else in the delegation could snare.
Perhaps itís smart politics for Cassidy to remind voters about Landrieuís deal on the healthcare vote, but the flaw is in his arithmetic.