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Unemployment law changes tactic in war against Jindal

Behind the high comedy that passes for argumentation against Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to accept all the federal largesse from the budget-busting spending bill and the attempts to overcome that legislatively lies a political struggle that has little to do with reason and everything to do with the maintenance of power and privilege.

Jindal opted out of receiving around $98 million in expanded unemployment benefit coverage because he said he feared after making the necessary legal changes to allow this it would leave the state and its businesses on the hook to continue to excise this money from the citizenry after the federal subsidies run out. As discussed elsewhere this threat is genuine but a more compelling reason not mentioned by Jindal is altering state law to allow it changes nature of what unemployment insurance is all about, pushing it more into the realm of welfare.

Two bills, HB 610 by Democrat state Rep. Cedric Richmond and HB 615 by Democrat state Rep. Sam Jones, seek to make the legal changes as a method to compel acceptance, notions Jindal has long said would suffer his veto pen. The pair whistles into the wind about how they think they have close to the 70 House votes that could override such an effort, but their bluster safely may be discounted. With not even a majority in the House, Democrats seem highly unlikely to pick up the extra 18 votes they would need from Republicans and independents to win on this, especially as probably at least a few Democrats themselves would not support an override. If nothing else, the history of Louisiana legislative-executive relations shows that when going up against a governor’s veto threat, colleagues tend to get told one thing but when crunch time comes, a significant number of legislators do what the governor wishes.

This does not stop the whining coming from some Democrats, as well as others. (It is disappointing that not only did the Louisiana Association of Non-Profit Organizations allow itself to be used as a political tool in all of this, but also that its contribution to the debate is so intellectually pathetic. One of its officials criticized Jindal’s reason for not accepting funds by liking those who do not get unemployment benefits now because they voluntarily leave employment or choose not to seek it, which these bills would permit, to the “starving” and their needing to be fed. As a public service, I won’t waste your time further explaining the obvious about this.) There are two reasons why they will keep this up.

One is that they hope that Jindal’s de-politicization of the earmark process actually gives them a crack at a two-thirds override majority. Last year, Jindal created a set of guidelines for his use of the line-item veto to be used when legislators stuffed pet projects into the budget and proved unafraid to clip out expenditures that did not meet them. Historically, governors often used political whim to make these kinds of decisions, using them as bargaining chips for legislator support on other measures. In essence, by this change Jindal has disarmed himself somewhat and there may be hope that his voluntary surrender of this tool might create fewer disincentives for legislators to go against the governor on bills like these.

The other gets to the heart of the long-term political strategy of Jindal’s legislative opponents specifically and of Democrats everywhere in general. Simply, they recognize that Jindal is a political threat to them ascendant on the national level. If they can pull off in effect a reversal of Jindal’s policy, this damages Jindal’s political standing and that is a paramount objective of Louisiana Democrats. For this reason alone, the tilting at windmills will continue on this issue.

But it is one that could backfire as it could hand Jindal an opportunity to gain political capital. These bills might actually gain majorities in the Legislature and thereby pass to the governor but if the sponsors have the math wrong in either chamber, they simply tee up the bills for Jindal to swat an easy homerun that adds to his credentials as a reformist conservative battling against big government, a sentiment that brought tens of thousands of Louisianans (although not Jindal) out last week for intense rallies against the very philosophy behind these bills. (What they may try to do if they think they have the numbers is to bring one to a vote in the House but if it doesn’t get better than 70 votes then give instructions not to schedule it in the Senate, to deprive Jindal of this ammunition.)

Expect these bills to be given much publicity by their backers. They may even get out of committee to much fanfare. And then they’ll fade away as part of a tactical adjustment by Democrats in their never-ending war against one of the most dangerous politicians to their power and privilege in America.

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