Washington Watch: Cassidy and conservatism

Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum
Washington Bureau writer Jordan Blum

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was one of the deciding votes for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The “Obamacare” law is the bane of the GOP and Republicans will hang it around her neck at every opportunity leading up to her 2014 re-election effort.

But Landrieu is owning her vote and she has repeatedly doubled down in her support. She even wrote a recent column in several Louisiana newspapers criticizing the Louisiana Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal for again rejecting the Medicaid expansion that comes with Obamacare to insure more state residents.

“By saying no to the expansion, they said no to positive economic impacts to Louisiana’s economy and health care improvements for many people who desperately need and deserve better care,” she wrote. “Louisiana’s overall national health ranking is 49th.”

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that her chief re-election opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, is being criticized, rightly or wrongly, for Obamacare issues in recent days from both Democrats and some Republicans, especially those on the far right of the spectrum.

Cassidy, who is a still-practicing doctor, and other House Republicans have voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 37 times — a futile effort that immediately dies at the foot of the Senate each time. But opponents have managed to find a couple of alleged instances of hypocrisy of Cassidy supporting aspects of Obamacare.

Cassidy in October posed at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of the Westdale Middle School health center after it was renovated partially through a federal grant provided through Affordable Care Act programs.

Then, there is the November 2011 letter from the U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals to Cassidy thanking him for writing a letter of support in favor of health-care center grants in rural Louisiana. But the grant in question is “for Affordable Care Act Capital Development — Building Capacity funding.”

But these examples do not mean Cassidy necessarily went “Clue” and killed Colonel Mustard with a candlestick in the drawing room.

Just because he opposes Obamacare in its entirety, does not mean he has to oppose every aspect of the law. After all, Cassidy isn’t going to come out in opposition to more breast cancer screenings for women.

The concern for Cassidy though is that some conservative groups are seizing on these examples and criticizing him. The Senate Conservatives Fund has already called Cassidy too liberal for Louisiana and now the far-right RedState political news website is taking shots at Cassidy.

A new RedState article touted Cassidy’s “complicated relationship with Obamacare” and noted the Westdale ribbon-cutting and other issues.

In reference to Cassidy, the article states, “Folks, is this the best we can do in a state with virtually no Democrat bench? Really?”

So it’s probably no coincidence that the RedState Gathering conference in August in New Orleans lists confirmed speakers such as Jindal and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, but has no mention of Cassidy.

The only other announced Republican in the Senate race thus far is political newcomer and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Rob Maness, who is trying to run to the right of Cassidy and rally tea party support. Maness took a jab at Cassidy over the matter as well. “I will work day and night to end Obamacare and will not pose for photo-ops for Obamacare pork like Rep. Bill Cassidy,” Maness wrote on social media.

Republicans, with the aid of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., have largely cleared the deck for Cassidy thus far, including the decision not to run for the Senate by U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, who also would have campaigned to the right of Cassidy.

But Cassidy may still want to watch his right as some argue his voting record is not conservative enough. He tends to rate middle-of-the-pack on conservative voting scorecards.

“I’m not going to vote to appease some private think tank in D.C.,” Cassidy said in a previous interview about voting scorecards. “I’m working with a conservative mindset primarily for Louisiana and my district.”

He called such ratings a “manipulative process” that punish him for voting for things that benefit his Louisiana district.

Cassidy has a relatively similar voting record to U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette. Likewise, last year RedState relentlessly attacked Boustany as he ran against fellow congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, who was considered the more conservative of the two.

Then again, Boustany won.

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum@theadvocate.com.