Search This Blog


Melancon backs into losing health care debate corner

It’s never a good sign when a challenger devotes most campaign rhetoric to playing defense and trying to criticize the incumbent as a rejoinder. It’s even worse when his arguments factually fall flat. At this rate, Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon is going to have a long year-plus ahead of him.

In the brief but early campaign for the Senate seat of Republican David Vitter who intends to continue the claim on the seat, Melancon has been on the defensive from the beginning on precisely the issue where Vitter has been on the march, health insurance changes. Vitter has become a leading opponent of Democrat plans to boost regulation, vastly increase spending, and create a system to herd the populace into a government-run system.

But Vitter has shown he does not only oppose reform. Recently, he endorsed the general ideas behind a report issued by Louisiana’s Pelican Policy Institute, built upon the general recommendations of a firm headed by the visionary economist Arthur Laffer, and which largely.parallels Republican plans regarding health care. These endorse a system that, except for catastrophic, “high-risk” cases, would get government out of the health care business (the Institute report does not recommend the high risk pool) through a combination of health savings accounts while removing employer tax breaks, vouchers for the indigent instead of direct payments by government, tort liability reform, and policy portability (which already works with auto insurance). It would save money and likely would provide for better care.

Yet while Vitter has stated what he opposes and what he supports on the issue, Melancon has just claimed to be Rep. “No” – and not even convincingly at that. While he voted against one Democrat proposal in committee, for it he also voted against Republican amendments that would have steered that bill more towards the GOP’s version, and he also used a procedural vote to allow the potential for taxpayer-funded abortion in it. The strategy is that House Democrats want to find a way to pass their bill without having to call on Melancon’s affirmative vote.

However, if Melancon is supposedly against his party’s plans, what is he for? Well, nothing specific, just some general bromides about increased coverage at lower costs. He got a little more specific in criticizing Vitter’s support of the alternative, saying he was against making individuals buying their own even though statistics show they would actually pay less for health insurance this way.

So, Vitter has criticized effectively Democrat plans which are unpopular among his constituents and backed reasonable alternatives that data and research show have every chance of succeeding. Further, he has highlighted Melancon’s refusal to go along with the alternatives and his opponent’s implicit support of the Louisiana-reviled Democrat plans. Melancon, for his part, heretofore has become reduced to denying he supports specific Democrat plans, denying that he supports specific Republican plans, and spouting meaningless generalities to a public that has become agitated over the issue and wants specifics.

This latter scenario is no way to win an election, and the issue is no-win for Melancon. If, least likely, Republican reforms win, Vitter gets all the credit and Melancon none. If, more likely, Democrat changes win, Melancon gets no credit because he supported nothing but Vitter does get much because he valiantly opposed them. If, most likely, marginal changes get enacted in the Democrat direction and Melancon votes against them, the same applies, and if he votes for them, he’ll still get less political mileage out of that than Vitter’s opposition does for him.

Ironically for Melancon, his own party has made this one of the two biggest issues of the nascent campaign season and put him in a position that only can hurt his candidacy (and the other, the performance of the economy, also has set Melancon up for campaign failure). It has exposed the internal contradictions of Melancon’s national political career – supporting liberal policies representing a conservative district, now trying to get elected from a conservative state – and makes what is a difficult job for Melancon to win even harder.

No comments: