Monday, October 26, 2009

If Democrats own healthcare, we can own the Governor's Mansion in 2012

It's not often that Harry Reid and Alan Levine team up on anything, but they did today in laying out the path to Democratic success in Louisiana in the 2011 statewide elections.

That path will be healthcare. Specifically, it will be Governor Bobby Jindal's ideological rigidity on taxes in the face of what will be draconian (criminal?) cuts in healthcare in the state budget over the next two years. With healthcare and higher education still the only funding streams not constitutionally protected and the state facing a billion dollar revenue shortfall, Jindal will force the Legislature to make heavy cuts in both programs.

Last week, the Baton Rouge Advocate carried a story saying the higher education cuts will amount to 60 percent over the next two years. No mention of healthcare, but that's where the bulk of the cuts will be and for two reasons. First, that's where the money is (Medicaid is a $6 billion program). Secondly, no one in the Legislature is lobbying to protect the interests of the poor, the handicapped and those with special needs — the victims of these coming cuts. Oh, the hospitals, nursing homes and doctors will object, but you won't see anything resembling the "Intervention at the Mansion" earlier this year where all of the non-imprisoned former governors got together to tell the Boy Governor that he just could not cut $200 million-plus from higher education.

No notables stood up for Medicaid clients then. And none will do it in the coming session.

They are, in the current world of Louisiana politics, "expendable."

That's what happens when Democrats forget who they are and who they represent and buy into the conceit that they can get elected if they run as 'Republican-lite' candidates. Ultimately, they are not Democrats and their votes show it.

Today, Jindal's DHH Secretary Alan Levine dropped the first of what will be many shoes. According to The Advocate, he announced another round of Medicaid budget cuts made necessary because of rising enrollments in the program and the inability of the department to implement cuts fast enough. Poverty is up in Louisiana. Unemployment is up. The number of companies offering health insurance coverage is falling through the floor.

So, Levine, working within Jindal's "No Taxes for Any Reason" straight jacket, is ordering more cuts. This is, of course, a result of issues in the current fiscal year. This isn't even related to the even bigger cuts that will be needed next year.

Senator Harry Reid handed Louisiana Democrats a gift today by including the Public Option in the bill that the U.S. Senate will debate and vote on in a couple of weeks. Word is that the bill will include an "opt out" clause for states to leave the public option.

Is there any doubt as to which way the Jindal administration and Louisiana Republicans will lurch on this? Levine has been taking part in Louisiana Republican Party workshops talking against healthcare reform. Jindal's path to the national Republican stage requires he follow the party's rejectionist strategy, so he will clearly push to have the state opt out of the public option.

But, here's where it gets interesting.

Depending on the year, anywhere between 17 and 25 working age Louisiana adults are uninsured. In July, the Baton Rouge Business Report quoted a spokesman for BlueCross/BlueShield of Louisiana who said that only 30 percent of Louisiana small businesses offer health insurance to their employees and that the number is falling due to skyrocketing rates.

While no one will speak up for Medicaid patients, surely someone will speak up for the rights of the working uninsured and fight the Jindal administration's expected push to, in fact, opt out of the public option — the path to provide affordable coverage to those working age residents without coverage.

The 2011 statewide elections will be the battle ground where this fight takes place. Jindal, if he follows his current course, will have cut higher education by three-quarters of a billion dollars. He will have cut a billion in healthcare spending, eliminating services, shutting institutions, impacting the families of the disabled, the sick and the infirm.

This election will take place on a re-districted state Legislative map. Every district will be redrawn, and it will be pretty radically different due to post-2005/2008 storm induced population shifts.

Democrats should be easy to distinguish from Republicans. The Republicans will be the ones saying they are sorry for the pain, injury and even deaths their cuts inflicted, but that they had no choice. Democrats will be the candidates motivated by outrage at the callous, depraved disregard for the health and well-being of their fellow citizens.

Jindal will be vulnerable in 2011. He will have revealed that everything said about him in 2003 was true — that his knowledge of numbers is matched only by his inability to see the people behind the numbers in state budgets and programs. The healthcare ads that Kathleen Blanco ran against him in 2003 — those credited with sealing her victory then — will ring prophetic.

This man is devoid of compassion and is blinded by his ambition. Our state is paying — and will pay — a fearful price for his limitations.

But, elections are about changing course.

Harry Reid has just set up Louisiana Democrats to take our state back, to walk it back from the brink.

It will be a hard fight — beating incumbents always is. The Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (David Vitter's homage to Tom DeLay) did not quite succeed in taking over either house of the Legislature, but they succeeded just enough to give Jindal the ability to defeat tax increases that could stave off some of these cuts. They will also work to ensure that the re-districting process is skewed to favor Republicans.

They, too, are setting him up for defeat — and the members of the House and Senate they sent there to do their ideologically driven work.

The world has shifted. They have not changed. The opportunity to oust them is ripening.


google said...

Hey -

Have you seen the new chamber of commerce ads that are trying to push against health care reform and the public option? The ads are basically a response to an earlier ad buy FOR health care reform that was done through Health Equity for All:

I'm wondering what your thoughts are about these two ads pitting the chamber of commerce WITH health insurance companies and AGAINST groups like NAACP, National Council of La Raza and other more community based groups.

Mike Stagg said...

Dear 'google',

I am shocked — SHOCKED!!! — that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to making healthcare affordable and accessible to anyone but their largest members.

Healthcare reform targets working age Americans (between 19 and 64) who either work at places where health benefits are not offered, or where the cost of the benefits is too expensive. The steadily rising cost of healthcare insurance is breaking the back of the employer-based healthcare coverage system that has existed in this country since the late 1940s.

We are seeing a market failure. Government needs to step in, and will in a limited way under both the House and Senate versions of this effort.

This is not socialized medicine. No hospitals are being bought. Doctors will not be made civil servants. The three BMW garage is not endangered.

This is going to be good for small businesses and working people — which pretty much explains the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's opposition to reform.

They are who they are. They can't help themselves.

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