The federal transportation bill signed into law Friday will direct billions of dollars to Louisiana’s coast.
But the biggest mystery still remains exactly how the cut in federal funding to the state’s health-care services for the poor ended up in the final bill during the penultimate moments of behind-the-scenes negotiations.
For this fiscal year alone, the administration calculates that the $572 million reduction in federal funding translates to a cut of $859.2 million spending for Medicaid services.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans — the only Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation — blame the U.S. House’s Republican leadership. Neither has offered specifics.
Landrieu declined interview requests this past week. Richmond did not respond.
The problem is the state’s operating budget already has been finalized, signed into law and became operational on July 1. The $859.2 million is expected to come directly out of public hospital funds and health-care services for the neediest because state officials were not able to anticipate such cuts. The cuts represent more than 10 percent of the state’s total Medicaid budget.
When Landrieu took to the U.S. Senate floor June 29, she complained Louisiana was wrongly singled out. “The House Republicans that came up with this idea insisted on this offset when there were others that could have been offered much more fair, much less impactful, and much less hurtful. There were Republican members that absolutely insisted that this offset be included,” she said.
Landrieu added, “I will have more to say about the details of that later, because I want to stay focused on RESTORE.” Apparently, “later” for Landrieu did not mean this past congressional recess week.
The transportation bill includes the RESTORE Act provisions originally sponsored by Landrieu that guarantee 80 percent of the fines collected from the April 2010 BP oil leak — an amount that could reach $20 billion — will be distributed for coastal restoration to the five states along the Gulf of Mexico: Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama.
Richmond on June 29 said in a prepared statement: “It is sinful that Speaker (John) Boehner and House Republican leadership can be so careless with the lives of Louisiana’s elderly and disabled.”
Richmond also attempted to blame Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., for not doing more to prevent the Medicaid cuts. Vitter was the only member of the Louisiana delegation on the transportation conference committee and, at the last minute, he was able to squeeze his National Flood Insurance Program revamp and reauthorization into the final bill.
“It is unfortunate that although we have a governor who works tirelessly to establish a national profile and a Republican senator who sat on the conference committee, House Republican leadership still pursued this course of action,” Richmond said. “Maybe the governor didn’t have enough influence, or he decided not to use his influence.”
Vitter and Jindal both declined interview requests this past week.
Jindal’s communication staff instead released a prepared statement about the Medicaid cuts that did not address any of the questions asked about his potential role in the congressional process to cut the Medicaid funds or his thoughts on the end result.
The timing of Jindal’s silence on the matter is interesting because the governor is refusing to allow Louisiana to participate in the Medicaid aspects of Obama’s health-care law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Regardless of who was to blame, or whether any inaction contributed to the state’s Medicaid losses, House Republicans did not act unilaterally.
U.S. Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, both complained they could not prevent the Medicaid cuts. But they also quickly argued the Medicaid funds would not be gone if the Democratic-controlled Senate leadership had not allowed it to happen.
Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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