Stephanie Grace: Americans for whose Prosperity?

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You may not have heard of Americans for Prosperity, but if you watch television, you probably know its work.

The interest group, closely aligned with the Tea Party, backed by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers and free from the pesky limits that restrict donations to individual candidates in order to prevent any one faction from amassing too much influence, has already spent a reported $2.6 million on ads attacking Sen. Mary Landrieu for supporting the Affordable Care Act.

Its new Louisiana chapter is poised to play a big role in the upcoming legislative session too. Its top priority in Baton Rouge appears to be defeating a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the state to accept the Medicaid expansion — funded 100 percent by the feds for three years and 90 percent thereafter — that is part of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

So as you’re watching those ads and following the session, it’s fair to ask: prosperity for whom?

Not just because AFP’s health care agenda leaves out plenty of Louisianans, including lower-income residents who still can’t get health insurance under the new law because Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected the Medicaid money.

It’s also a good question because another of the group’s priorities, preventing a fix to a National Flood Insurance Program reform law that was designed to make the program financially and actuarially sound, could have catastrophic implications for Louisiana.

Among leaders here and in other states where the prospect of huge, abrupt rate increases has bubbled up to the top of the agenda, there’s a consensus that something needs to be done to soften the impact that the Biggert-Waters law could have on the real estate market, and on residents who did everything the law required at the time yet still might not be able to insure or sell their homes.

Leaving the reforms in place, unintended consequences and all, could be financially devastating, politicians on both sides of the aisle agree. That includes not just Landrieu but also Bill Cassidy, the Baton Rouge congressman, leading Republican in the Senate race and likeliest beneficiary of AFP’s anti-Landrieu barrage.

Indeed, as much as extreme partisanship has come to dominate Washington in recent years, flood insurance reform has come close to breaking through the gridlock.

Sure, there’s tension over some of the specifics and who would ultimately get credit for any fix that passes. For Landrieu, a win on flood insurance would bolster her central argument that her influence is vital to the state; for Cassidy, it would help him make the case that he too can deliver on locally vital issues. Indeed, support on both sides of the aisle may have as much to do with the Senate race as with the actual merits of the argument.

But on both the ultimate aim and the sense of urgency, the delegation, from Democrats Landrieu and Cedric Richmond to Republicans Cassidy, Steve Scalise and David Vitter, is on basically the same page.

Yet AFP is doing its darndest to kill any change to Biggert-Waters. Posted on its website is a joint petition with other conservative groups urging the House to reject a bill passed in the Senate by a 67-32 margin, under the leadership of not just Landrieu and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, whom the site calls out, but Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, whom AFP must have forgotten to mention. The Senate bill would delay new rates for four years while an affordability study and other measures are completed.

House leaders haven’t brought the measure up for a vote, but the chamber could act this week on a different bill, spearheaded by Cassidy, Scalise and other coastal Republicans, that would repeal some of the law’s most devastating aspects. The AFP petition doesn’t mention this bill in particular, but it does call for the House to kill any effort to maintain flood insurance subsidies.

If the rate hikes are averted, both sides will deserve credit for pushing the issue to the forefront. If not, these outside groups will deserve at least some of the blame.

So remember that the next time one of those ads pops up on your TV screen and urges you to hold your representatives accountable. Don’t forget to ask yourself: accountable to whom?

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes.