Inside Report for Dec. 18, 2012

Jindal attack on Landrieu misses mark

By lanny keller

One sentence from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press secretary gives an insight into why the governor is so widely distrusted by those he works with in the State Capitol — and in the U.S. Capitol.

Not unusually, Jindal was in the process of stiff-arming U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on her proposals that the governor reconsider parts of his opposition to an expanded, and largely federally funded, Medicaid program for health care for the poor.

When asked about Landrieu’s letter, Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates brought up the congressional bill — part of a larger bill this year that helped Louisiana in various ways — which forced a state cut in Medicaid.

“We would like to urge Senator Landrieu to reconsider her vote to cut over $800 million from Louisiana’s Medicaid program,” Bates told The Times-Picayune.

With even basic knowledge of what happened with Louisiana’s Medicaid program this year, the hypocrisy of this statement is just incredible.

As The Times-Picayune immediately reported, the Medicaid provision was attached to a transportation bill that also included the so-called Restore Act, which allocated 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the BP spill to Louisiana and four other Gulf States. The Restore Act was a top priority of the Louisiana congressional delegation — not to mention Jindal’s own coastal restoration officials.

It was also a thoroughly bipartisan issue: Landrieu was joined by the entire Louisiana delegation in voting for the bill. That included all seven Louisiana Republicans.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

True, the Restore Act was only part of the bill, which also funded highway projects and otherwise bundled other legislation into one package. That package included the cut in Louisiana’s Medicaid program, a repayment of a previous overpayment to Medicaid.

That abrupt demand for repayment triggered a crisis in the state budget, already passed for the year. Our Legislature had gone home. The Jindal budget was precariously balanced as it was.

So it was a genuine crisis, that need not have occurred. But Louisiana’s delegation decided across party lines that nevertheless the dedication of the BP fines — expected in the billions — was worth it.

If Jindal’s statements through Bates, his spokeswoman, now are taken at face value, his own party members are at least as complicit as Landrieu. Further, GOP House members — not from Louisiana’s delegation — were reportedly those pushing for an abrupt Louisiana payback on Medicaid in last-minute negotiations on the highway bill.

When that became known, late in the game, Landrieu and others called on Jindal for help — and got nothing. The governor failed to lobby Republican leaders in Congress on the issue, when there was time to do so, and thus use his status as a “rising star” in the party for the state’s interest.

So now it is Landrieu’s fault?

In an unwritten code in government, when unpleasant things have to be done — such as a vote for a Medicaid cut to get a bigger prize, the Restore Act — officials are expected to pull together and avoid exactly this kind of recrimination.

Not a team player? Worse than that. In such an attack on Landrieu, Jindal sat on the bench before trashing his own team’s quarterback — even as the game was won — because the team had one bad quarter in the game.

Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His e-mail address is lkeller@theadvocate.com.