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Landrieu practices shell game, puts Vitter in tough spot

As bad as current Democrat-desired health care legislation may be in terms of higher costs and worse outcomes, it might end up positively toxic for Louisiana’s senators who are having to deal with it.

Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself casting a vote concerning abortion that may come back to haunt her. While Landrieu always has supported the concept of legal abortion for convenience, she never had supported federal government money going to insurers that would cover elective abortions … until yesterday when she voted to reject an amendment that would not permit any insurance plan getting taxpayer dollars to offer abortion coverage, replicating language in the House version. The motion failed 54-45.

The rationale Democrats use as a pretense to say this won’t encourage or aid in private insurers in paying for abortions of convenience is that the bill as currently written would not allow federal dollars directly to be used to reimburse for the killings. This is sophistry at best, disingenuous at its immoral worst. As amendment author Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson noted, the separation of funds in the bill an accounting gimmick. “The reality is federal funds would help buy coverage that includes abortion,” he said.

True enough, as the federal government would be subsidizing coverage which will be required by the new law adjusted by community rates it also will require. Without that infusion, the insurer may not be able to afford to offer and pay for elective abortion. Thus, “private” funds get released for that that otherwise would have to be used for other purposes now to be subsidized with federal money. It’s a shell game, a point Landrieu has yet to address despite an indication she would explain the matter.

Meanwhile, something Landrieu inspired, a special provision in the bill that would steer $100 to $300 million to the state to supplement Medicaid expenses in 2011, is causing consternation for Republican Sen. David Vitter. Her “Louisiana Purchase” provision has been criticized as a form of bribery for her vote to allow debate on the entire motion to succeed, which would allow her then to vote against a final product that would pass regardless since the motion to proceed required three-fifth of the seated Senate while passage requires only a majority of those present, thus again saving political face to the unknowledgeable.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn wishes to strike that language, and Republican Sen. John McCain has discussed taking that measure and others and proposing an amendment wiping out them all. This leaves Vitter in a quandary because he could be forced to vote to remove a measure which would help the state and, worse for his reelection prospects, be used against him as an indicator that he is insensitive to the state’s needs.

To defuse this, Vitter should file his own separate legislation – which Landrieu refuses to do – to implement the Medicaid “fix” (an artifact of the formula determining how much federal money goes to the state beginning in 2010-11 produces a significant drop in the federal share because it does not differentiate the impact of federal spending for disaster recovery of previous years). Then he can demonstrate he supports the fix and vote for wiping it out of the health care bill if the McCain amendment comes to fruition, explaining his vote on the basis of the other undesirable things needed to go.

Thus, Vitter probably can tap dance around this will little if any political damage. By contrast, Landrieu has to hope time and no additional controversy concerning this bill and her votes surrounding it dull the memory of voters if she seeks another term in five years.

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