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Nov 20, 2009 4:52 PM by Rob Kirkpatrick

Louisiana Senator On Healthcare Overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) - Suitably opaque, Section 2006 takes up only a
few dozen lines in a sweeping health care bill that runs to 2,074
pages and mentions neither Sen. Mary Landrieu nor her state of
Louisiana.
But the section's purpose is indisputable: to deliver $100
million or more in federal funds to the state. And in the process
clear the way for one of three moderate Democratic fence-sitters -
Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas are the
others - to help propel the legislation past its initial hurdle in
a crucial Saturday vote.
Nelson, Landrieu and Lincoln emerged several days ago as the
last public holdouts among 58 Democrats and two independents whose
votes Majority Leader Harry Reid and the White House must have to
overcome the Republicans' attempt to strangle the bill before
serious debate can begin.
Each has moved carefully with an eye on home-state voters. And
inside the Senate, each has taken advantage of the political
leverage newly available.
Alone among the three, Nelson issued a statement Friday ending
any lingering public suspense about his intentions. "The Senate
should start trying to fix a health care system that costs too much
and delivers too little for Nebraskans," he said, adding his
decision should not be seen as an indication of how he will vote on
the legislation itself.
Nelson had been publicly signaling his intentions for more than
a week, and his words presumably came as no surprise to Reid or the
White House.
This sort of political minuet can be delicate, as shown when the
Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said
earlier on Friday that Lincoln had already confided to Reid how she
planned to vote.
Republicans, eager to scuttle the bill - and defeat Lincoln in
2010 - instantly accused the two-term senator of telling Democratic
party leaders before informing her own constituents in Arkansas.
"No other senator speaks for Senator Lincoln. She is still
reviewing the bill," declared the senator's spokeswoman, Leah Vest
DiPietro, adding her boss had not yet made up her mind. For his
part, Durbin sought to quickly closed the loop with a statement
saying he had been unclear and misinterpreted.
As for Nelson, several officials, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said he had insisted Reid omit from the bill any change
in the insurance industry's protection from federal antitrust law.
The House version of the legislation would expose the industry to
scrutiny by both the Justice Department's antitrust lawyers and the
Federal Trade Commission.
Reid, who spoke out strongly in favor of the change in antitrust
treatment earlier in the fall, left it out of the bill he drafted
over several weeks and unveiled on Wednesday.
Lincoln has been the most close-mouthed about her intention. As
a committee chairman, she is the most powerful of the group. As the
only one of the three seeking re-election next year, she is also
the most politically vulnerable.
In public, she has asked that the bill be available for 72 hours
before the vote occurs. In private, her demands have been more
substantive, according to officials who did not describe them.
She is virtually certain to be criticized no matter what her
vote. After the House cleared its version of the legislation this
month, a conservative group began airing commercials criticizing
Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., for voting in its favor. At the same time,
MoveOn.org, a liberal organization, slammed another one of the
state's lawmakers, Rep. Mike Ross, for opposing it.
A hint: At home, Lincoln has suggested her vote will be
influenced by former President Bill Clinton, who was Arkansas
governor for 12 years before winning the White House.
Clinton recently met privately with Senate Democrats, telling
them that passing an imperfect bill was better than nothing. "We
don't ever go to Washington with the idea that we're going to
create a work of art," Lincoln said afterward. "It's got to be a
work in progress."
Of the three, Landrieu has been the clearest about her
intentions, and her interests ranged beyond health insurance to the
oysters for which Louisiana is famous. When the Food and Drug
Administration proposed banning sales of raw oysters from the Gulf
of Mexico during warm weather months, Landrieu and others objected.
A week ago, the agency thought better of the idea and shelved
the plan in favor of further study. "I'm really thankful that they
listened," said Landrieu, who had met with FDA Commissioner
Margaret Hamburg to discuss the issue.
Over recent weeks, Landrieu has issued a string of statements
outlining the areas she wanted addressed for the benefit of her
constituents - issues that could be dealt with only after health
legislation made it to the Senate floor.
After meeting with Reid almost a month ago, she mentioned the
"unique challenges Louisiana is facing in terms of Medicaid."
In a Senate speech and statement, she noted that Louisiana has
the highest breast cancer death rate in the country and the lowest
female life expectancy of any state. And she said, "Unless
something is done, annual health care costs for small firms over
the next 10 years are expected to more than double to reach $339
billion in 2018."
Landrieu can point to provisions in the legislation that are
designed to attack all three problems.
They include Section 2006.
Reading it is of little assistance. "Special adjustment to FMAP
Determination for Certain States recovering from a Major Disaster"
is the title, and about two pages of similarly indecipherable
legalese follows.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, it will send an
additional $100 million to Louisiana to help it cover costs for
Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor.
Should Landrieu decide to side with Republicans this weekend,
she would also be voting to deny her state those funds.

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