Washington Watch for Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013

by jordan blum

jblum@theadvocate.com

Did U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, propose versions of “Obamacare” before the president was in office?

Did U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., line her pockets with the cash of BP lobbyists through real estate dealings?

These are the accusations on the table as their 2014 Senate race begins to heat up. Accuracy is often less important than whether the attacks can influence voters.

It’s true that when Cassidy was a freshman state senator in 2007 he proposed legislation to create the Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange and the Office of the Louisiana Health Insurance Exchange within the state Department of Insurance.

Although the proposal differs from President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, the two plans still heavily involved health care exchanges. Cassidy’s proposal also pushed for the expansion and revamp of Medicaid in the state.

Cassidy’s plan, which was dead on arrival in the Louisiana Legislature, doesn’t have any individual or employer mandates. But some comparisons — accurate or not — can still be made.

As such, the Louisiana Democratic Party has seized on it to peg Cassidy as a flip-flopper who backed parts of Obamacare in the past. Democratic headlines include claims like, “Bill Cassidy continues to run from record.”

Cassidy, of course, strongly disagrees with any such assertion.

“The program I proposed is similar to other Republican programs. It was voluntary, market-based and meant to give people other options,” Cassidy said. “President Obama’s law, passed by Democrats on a party-line vote, is enforced by the IRS, dictates benefits and requires participation under penalty of law. By definition, it’s not market based. To compare one to another is like comparing crony capitalism to capitalism. Anyone who thinks these bills are similar either does not understand their intent or hasn’t read them.”

Still though, Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, said Cassidy’s opponents can use the issue to argue that “before Obama, he (Cassidy) was for it before he was against it.” There is the case that can be made that non-Democrats backed elements of the Affordable Care Act before the phrase “Obamacare” entered the general lexicon, Goidel said.

As for Landrieu, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has upped its ante by launching a new LandrieuForSale.com website as part of a new attack offensive.

Republicans are honing in on the dealings of Landrieu’s husband, Frank Snellings, who has worked as a real estate agent in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade.

A key target is Snellings working as the real estate broker for a $1.9 million Capitol Hill home owned by top lobbyist, Tony Podesta.

The lobbyist in question does work for mega-companies like BP and Lockheed Martin. Landrieu, is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and she chairs the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. Obviously, Landrieu represents a state that has a lot of issues with BP right now, but Podesta and Landrieu’s office have said he has not lobbied her on behalf of BP.

The NRSC is pegging it as Landrieu’s “real estate scandal” and contending that the “most powerful Washington lobbyists with business before Landrieu have potentially funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars through her husband, Frank Snellings, for real estate deals.”

There is no evidence of any quid pro quo thus far and Snelling’s work does not cause Landrieu to violate any Senate ethics rules. After all, lobbyists are everywhere in Washington and own their share of properties.

But Goidel said Landrieu opponents can still peg the real estate deals with Podesta and others as “part of corrupt Washington politics.”

Part of Landrieu’s argument for staying an incumbent senator is that she puts Louisiana first and she sits in more powerful committee positions to help the state, Goidel said. But her opponents can contend, “You’re close to power, but you’re too cozy with power.”

Regardless of whether any of these issues are causes for concern for the candidates, expect the attacks to keep on coming and increase in the future. After all, the Senate election is only more than a year away.

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