Democratic Louisiana flag
Volume 1, Number 16
By Democrats For Democrats
May 30, 2010

Honoring Those Who Sacrificed Their All for Our Country

Memorial Day is set aside for our country to honor those who gave their lives in defense of our country.

There is no higher form of sacrifice a citizen can make. It is incumbent upon our political leaders to make certain that the occasions when our country decides to put our men and women in harm's way that the causes are just, the objectives clear and the commitment is there to see the mission through.

In World War II, those conditions were all met. Since that time, our country has engaged in a series of smaller wars that have not measured up to those standards.

As we confront the economic limits of our power, now would be an excellent time to engage in a national conversation about what constitutes our essential national interests. We cannot afford to fight every fight. President Obama's recent articulation of our national security strategy would be an excellent point at which to begin that conversation.

If you've missed an earlier edition of Democratic Louisiana, here's the link to the archive page.

Thanks for reading!

Mike Stagg, Editor

Democratic Louisiana

President Obama, Congressman Melancon, Senator Vitter take different directions on Gusher

President Barack Obama reaffirmed the federal government's commitment to forcing BP and others to accept their liability for the Gulf Gusher and took steps to reform the corrupt agency that fostered a lax environment towards safety concerns in gulf drilling activities. He also made his second visit to the Louisiana coast on Friday.

Earlier in the week, the Justice Department wrote to Transocean, the company that owned the rig that was drilling the well that turned into the gusher, telling the company that it's decision to seek liability protection under an 1851 maritime act was "unconscionable."

Reuters reports that "In a scathing May 24 letter to the company, obtained by Reuters under a Freedom of Information Act request, the Justice Department demanded Transocean exclude from its request expected liability claims by federal and state governments that could reach billions of dollars."

The letter worked.

Transocean's lawyers filed a letter with the court the day after West's letter and the company reiterated on Friday that did not intend to block claims under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act.

"We have clarified that to the ... court and to the Department of Justice," the company said in a statement. Other claims that could be pursued include those by workers injured on the rig or by the families of those killed," Reuters reports.

The head of the Mineral Management Sevices office in the Department of the Interior resigned under pressure for failing to correct corruption issues that date back to the Bush administration.

Congressman Charlie Melancon continued meeting with the people of his district and demanding the BP be held accountable for the environmental and economic disaster that is still unfolding. Melancon broke down during a Washington hearing on the disaster, unable to contain the emotions that the disaster has unleashed in his district and among his constituents.

Vitter, on the other hand, spent much of his time searching for a Goldilocks formula (not too much, not too little, but just right!) to liability limit for BP and others who might cause massive spills while drilling for oil and gas offshore. He did manage to show up for photo ops with President Obama in Venice, showing that his complete and utter disdain for the president is not powerful enough to override his desire for on-camera face time.

Melancon was outraged by Vitter's formula which would base fines on the amount of company profits in the most recent year with a minimum of $150 million. He proposed a cap at four times the profits of the previous fiscal year. Considering the long term economic and environmental damage that will result from months of uninterrupted flow of oil into the sensitive coastal marshes and offshore fisheries, even that seems mild.

The Center for American Progress (led by former Clinton Administration Chief of Staff John Podesta) called for stronger action than either Melancon or Vitter seem prepared to back.

The ability to sell a lie — particularly when it affects public policy — depends in large measure on the ability of those pushing the lie to dominate the conversation, to keep selling their particular narrative until it verges on becoming the accepted truth.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan organization that has focused on healthcare policy, issued a report on Wednesday that looks at the impact of the expansion of Medicaid eligibility contained in the recently enacted healthcare reform legislation. In so doing, the numbers demolished the core lie of the Jindal administration's plan to close the public hospitals operated by LSU — that the loss of disproportionate share dollars will make the hospitals fiscally unsustainable. Here's the Kaiser press release. Here's the executive summary (PDF). Here's the full report (PDF).

The lie being pushed by Jindal, DHH Secretary Alan Levine and Speaker Jim Tucker — The Three Pinnochioes — is that the loss of a few hundred million dollars of disproportionate share dollars will doom the hospitals. What they don't want people to know — and what the Kaiser report makes clear — is that this expansion of Medicaid contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) will bring Billions of new healthcare dollars into the state that will more than offset the loss of that much smaller figure.

The report points out that this infusion of federal dollars will begin in 2014 with the federal government picking up the tab for the entire expansion in year one, falling to 95.6% of the cost of the expansion over the ensuring five years (Table 1, on page 12 in the full report).

In all, expansion of Medicaid eligibility could bring a minimum of $7.2 billion in new healthcare dollars into Louisiana, reducing the percentage of uninsured Louisiana residents living just above the poverty level by half. And, that's if the state does a poor job of reaching out to those currently uninsured to make them aware of the opportunity to gain coverage. If the state does a more aggressive outreach program, 74.8% of those now uninsured would have coverage.

In a hastily drawn up response to the Kaiser report, Levine actually agreed with the numbers. He and his boss Jindal just don't want to see it happen.

As the Kaiser report points out, "Medicaid is voluntary, states may choose to not to participate and thereby forego the federal Medicaid funding to which participating states are entitled. States that elect not to implement these new requirements in effect would be making the choice not to participate." (Page 7, Executive Summary)

Opting out is the route that The Three Pinnochioes plan to take, turning their back on billions of dollars in federal healthcare dollars, and opening the path for them to close the LSU hospitals. The only problem is that those dollars are dollars are bound for providers — doctors, hospitals, and clinics — who take Medicaid patients. Relations between the Jindal administration and the provider community are already strained after three years of budget cuts that resulted in reduced reimbursements rates.

Denying providers billions of dollars to cover what is otherwise uncompensated care would be signing a death warrant for many community hospitals who deliver much of the Medicaid. If The Three Pinnochioes succeed in their effort to kill the LSU hospitals, those community hospitals would be expected to pick up the patient load now handled by the LSU system, particularly those without any ability to pay.

The result will be a fiscal calamity for community hospitals and a public health emergency for the state.

It's the Ideology, Stupid!

In the world of The Three Pinnochioes, this has never been a healthcare issue. This is an ideological issue. They don't believe that the state should operate any hospitals and are committed to closing them. The notion of what happens to the patients is not something that they are particularly concerned about. Never has been.

Ideological rigidity leads to the same answer over and over, regardless of the facts. The Three Pinnochioes demonstrate this with their unbridled desire to kill the LSU hospitals. Any excuse will do.

The state's budget problems (which they largely created with the repeal of the income tax portions of the Stelly Plan) were the first excuse. Now with the potential for a surge of federal healthcare dollars into the state, they say that's their excuse for needing to kill those hospitals because the money is just not flowing into the the right pots.

In their ideologically driven quest to kill the LSU hospitals, The Three Pinnochioes threaten wrecking the entire healthcare system in this state. The initial impact might be on care for the poor, but it will ultimately accelerate the crisis that is putting health insurance beyond the reach of working families.

In a state where the percentage of working age adults without health insurance is high and climbing, opting out of the Medicaid portion of the ACA would leave Louisiana healthcare costs locked into the death spiral driven by the shifting of the cost of providing care for the uninsured onto the backs of those with coverage. This is the core of the national healthcare crisis. It is driving the cost of health insurance through the roof. A decision to opt out of the Medicaid portion would be the equivalent of smashing the pedal to the metal and heading over the cliff.

But, the cliff is precisely where Jindal wants to see this go for his own political reasons. He's directed Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to file suit challenging the legality of the ACA. He yanked the Department of Insurance back from participating in the new high risk pool for adults denied coverage over pre-existing conditions (a temporary program that will last until 2014 when the pre-existing condition exclusion for adults is outlawed). Refusing to participate in the Medicaid portion of the program would be the next step.

Levine's statement on Wednesday was the tip that this is what's coming.

Click here to read the rest of "The Three Pinnochioes"

Senate could have only two weeks to deal with 2011 budget

If House Speaker Jim Tucker gets his way (and there are no guarantees he will), the House might have a proposed budget heading over to the Senate by Friday. HB-1 made it out of the House Appropriations Committee this week, but it is an abomination that slashes $50 million from higher education, $68 million from LSU hospitals, and another $65 million across the board.

The 2011 budget is moving so late due to an ongoing dispute between Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson II over how quickly funds borrowed from the Rainy Day Fund have to be repaid.

That still leaves the matter of closing the $400-plus million hole in the current fiscal year budget to be settled. The fiscal year ends on June 30. The Legislature is constitutionally mandated. What happens if the hole goes unclosed before the year ends is anyone's guess.

With HB-1 dragging so late, the Senate will have about two weeks to review the House proposal, figure out how to restore the cuts that (according to Tucker) everyone figures will be restored. However, cooperation between the houses has been in shorter supply that solutions to the BP Gulf Gusher.

The squeeze play is on. Nothing much riding on it except the largest enterprise operating within the confines of the state — Louisiana government.

Bill to open Governor's records to greater transparency advances

Senate Bill 593, a bill that would bring more public scrutiny to the records of the Governor's Office than current public records legislation, made its way out of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

The Jindal administration is fighting the bill as it did similar bills last year.

According to The Advocate, under SB593, the law affecting the Governor’s Office would be “construed liberally so as to facilitate rather than hinder access to public records.”

However, records relating to executive deliberations of the governor and intra-office communications of the governor and his staff “may be privileged from disclosure.”

SB593 also would require preservation of Governor’s Office records and transfer of them to the state archives once the governor’s term ends. After 10 years time, those records would become public.

What's Jindal's worry here?

Jindal's Louisiana Way: Exploring BP's Deep Pocket Horizons

The Jindal administration went scrambling into BP's deep pockets on Friday trying hard not to look like ambulance chasers but coming up with a cool three-quarters of a billon dollar wish list from the wounded British energy giant.

This despite the fact that three Democratic state senators revealed that the state has yet to put almost $40 million in funding from BP to its intended purposes.

The latest Jindal administration requests came in the form of two letters. The first was addressed to Frank Hernandez, BP's VP of Corporate and Public Affairs, in Houston from five Louisiana officials: Robert Barham, Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Curt Eysink, Executive Director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission; Robin Keegan, Executive Director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority/Office of Community Development; Stephen Moret, Secretary, Louisiana Economic Development; Kristy Nichols, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services; and Alan Levine, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

That letter sought $300 million to help deal with current and future impacts of the BP Gulf Gusher on businesses and individuals along the coast.

Here's a link to the first letter.

The second letter, also from five state officials, was addressed to BP's CEO Tony Hayward in London. That letter was from Barham, Levine, Moret, and Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch, and Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain.

The second letter requested $457 million for a long-term seafood testing and certification program.

The letter says the program would seek to accomplish three goals:

1. Implementation of a science-based seafood safety testing program with transparent metrics of safety and quality.
2. Implementation of a certification program for quality and processing of certified Louisiana seafood.
3. A successful short-term and sustained long-term consumer information campaign designed to reassert the Louisiana brand.

Jindal's cabinet secretaries, at least, are willing to embrace science while the Brown- and Oxford-educated Jindal continues to cling furiously to creationism.

Senators Karen Carter Peterson, Norby Chabert, and D.A. "Butch" Gautreaux charged on Friday that money BP has already given the state is not being put to work for the intended purposes.

The senators said that $40 million BP has already given the state is sitting mostly unused.

Senator Peterson said it was disclosed on Thursday that the state has spent only about $3 million of a $25 million BP grant for spill-related expenses, and that it has not yet issued a contract for BP's $15 million grant to promote tourism attractions threatened by the spill.

Another example of Jindal administration foot dragging was the fact that the state has called up only 1,100 of the 6,000 National Guard members authorized for the spill clean-up efforts, according to Senator Peterson.

Senator Chabert from Houma said Jindal is sitting on money that coastal parish governments could put to work to fight the impact of the gusher.

"They want to do so much, whether it's a big project or a small project, but they are frustrated because the money they need isn't being afforded them in a timely fashion," Chabert said.

Senator Gautreau from Morgan City said Jindal needs to explain why he is sitting on the money instead of putting it to work.

This is the recognizable pattern of the Jindal administraiton: big talk followed by flawed or incompetent follow-up. Does Ethics Reform ring a bell?

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