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Landrieu wants debate only when it helps her politically

In Sen. Mary Landrieu’s world, democratic debate is desirable only when it serves her interests, her reaction to the health care reform bill currently being considered in the Senate shows.

Recently, Democrat Landrieu caught a lot of flak for being the decisive vote for allowing the Senate to bring up for consideration the bill which will increase costs associated with health care while decreasing the quality of its provision as it attempts to usher in a government-run system. Landrieu got heat because, besides reminding that the vote was not on passage and just for consideration, she also had inserted a provision that would bring the state anywhere from $100-300 million to its Medicaid system for 2011. The state then, and in succeeding years, would have to pay vastly more for this program because the formula assigning payment proportions did not take into account injections of huge sums of federal dollars (for hurricane disaster recovery purposes) that boosted average state incomes.

But when it comes to debate over the merits of the entire country paying for that fix on Louisiana’s behalf, she appears dead set against kind of discussion. For years the taxpayers’ best friend in Congress has been Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, and he is trying to get an amendment that would remove that provision. Democrat leaders seem ready to fight that amendment from coming to the floor for debate.

If interested in the value of debate, confident in her request, and willing to respect the integrity of the institution, one would think Landrieu would welcome the opportunity to expound upon the merit of that provision. Instead, one of her hacks called it “political stunt” and that Coburn “has made a habit of grandstanding against Louisiana.” That may refer to Coburn’s questioning of the pace and use of recovery dollars in the past.

Of course, that neglects that Coburn tried to steer additional money to the state, specifically to repair the I-10 bridges over the Rigolettes, by chopping out unnecessary pork elsewhere – a fight on which Landrieu was AWOL. The current provision, another form of pork, Landrieu unabashedly has stumped for as a thinly disguised reason for her to allow the bill to be considered. Her ultimate goal is to actually vote against the entire measure so she can say she opposed this monstrously bad bill, yet for it have enough votes to pass it with this provision to claim credit also for this extra largesse.

But this strategy is too crass to admit, which is why she desperately wants to avoid debate. She then would have to explain why she does not seek a legislative solution in a separate bill, or as part of the regular appropriations bill for Medicaid through the federal department of Health and Human Services, for this formula change that otherwise would disproportionately impact the state. If this measure is so necessary, as Coburn wishes to contest, why can’t it stand alone, or in an appropriations bill? Is Landrieu that incapable and that ineffective as a senator to be unable to justify the fix on its own merits?

Probably, which is why she wants to short-circuit any hashing out of the issue. This contempt that she shows towards free expression tells us all we need to know about her true feelings about the value of policy discussion – if it benefits her political interests, debate away, but shut up if you oppose her especially when she cannot defend herself.


Regardless of motive, Kennedy idea publicizing valuable

Louisiana’s Treasurer John Kennedy has been the chief window-opener on the state’s Commission on Streamlining Government, which will wrap up its work shortly, letting in some fresh air as ideas crackle from him like electric sparks from a Van de Graaff generator. His enthusiastic approach has led to much speculation about his motives.

One is that this is in search of higher office. Churning out suggestions, many of which are well-received popularly, in the context of his past history as a political chameleon would hint at somebody looking to create a brand impression that would serve useful in a campaign, finally creating a definitive image that would put to rest his flirtation with the left and give him unimpeachable fiscal conservative credentials.

Yet if this a motive for outspokenness, Kennedy does not talk like somebody in any hurry to complete the process and to use the completed persona soon. He says he is not running for U.S. Senate next year nor for governor in 2011, the only two offices which would be considered enough of a promotion to forsake a safe Treasurer’s seat that he does say he will run for again that year.


Shedding buildings only way to stop Bossier catastrophe

It’s agreed that Bossier City’s elected officials have squandered a bounty that could have made it a very publicly safe, low-tax haven that would have produced an impressive economic growth machine. Now that they have put the city into a bind, appropriate to ongoing 2010 budget deliberations we must ask, what should they do to get it out?

To answer this, it’s instructive to review what they should not do. To begin, no competent solution can be derived unless all concerned recognize that the city has not a revenue problem, but a spending problem. As noted previously, Bossier City’s property tax rate is set at a level comparable to other cities of similar size in Louisiana so there’s no need to jack that up. Even had rates been rolled forward to compensate for past reassessments, the extra revenue would only have compensated for about a third of the shortfall that emerged during the 2009 budget year.

Four years ago, city politicians pulled off a shell game in compensating for deficits in areas that had nothing to do with water and sewerage by increasing those fees. Earlier this year, they floated the idea of another increase, this time one that would actually have to do with water and sewerage to help pay for upgrades in the system, but public backlash shot that down. This deficit appears set to continue, in part caused by the last increase because officials stupidly ignored basic economics and didn’t realize per user usage would decrease because it now was more expensive per unit. Worse, the city charter mandates after two years in a row of losses that a schedule be produced presumably eliminating the deficit which could allow the money-hungry Council to raise rates again, independently of the budget crisis.


Bill sponsoring gap shows Melancon's inability to lead

In another attempt to find something to write about during what may be considered a “slow” news period, the New Orleans Times-Picayune hit upon comparing during this session of Congress that the challenger to Republican Sen. David Vitter, Democrat Rep. Charlie Melancon, has introduced only six pieces of legislation, two symbolic only, while Vitter has put his name on 73. That’s not as interesting as is the reaction by the Melancon camp seeking to take the seat in 2010 in trying to spin this.

Melancon operatives sniff that their boss is good behind the scenes in trying to make legislation that is more “Louisiana friendly.” By contrast, they claim that Vitter does no more than “grandstanding” in proposing so much legislation few pieces of which ever make it into law.

Note the forensic sidestep being attempted here, as the staffers try to equate the quality of legislation with its chances of passage. This perverts the true definition of “quality” which is simply the degree to which the legislation helps the country. How popular legislation may be among members of a particular Congress has nothing to do with how good it is – as this 111th Congress has shown dramatically with useless spending that expanded the deficit by about a fifth in one fell swoop, stealth state-controlled universal health insurance for “poor children” (in some cases up to 25 years in age and whose families make nearly six-figure annual salaries), and other less publicized mistakes.

A review of Vitter’s legislation, even just that mentioned in the story, reveals some very good ideas such as preserving the most vulnerable members of society from being killed for convenience, foreign assistance incentives to reduce illegal immigration, and preventing government funding going to a community organizing group facing multiple felony charges. That majorities in Congress lack the wisdom to pass these kinds of measures speaks not their quality but rather the inability or unwillingness of that majority to understand the superiority of such policies and to empathize with the American people.

And while this small amount of legislative bill success that a Melancon handler classifies as something that “produces nothing for his constituents,” at least give Vitter credit that in being stymied he is not actually working against the best interests of his constituents as has Melancon by his support indirectly (through votes allowing liberal Democrats to control the House) and directly (by voting for such idiocy as the budget-busting spending bill early in the year that, at best, has done nothing to improve the country’s economic performance) of measures harmful to the country.

But, argue the Melancon hacks, their boss promotes changes to other bills to help his constituents. Yet when pressed to come up with some examples, most cited by them Melancon ended up voting against in the final bill. So how is that any different from their argument that Vitter’s work not making it into law is “ineffective” if both are on the losing side of votes, and how does this make Melancon any more “effective?” By making his Democrat superiors’ bills he doesn’t like only mildly damaging instead of very damaging? If he believes that, why is he supporting a party that causes so much damage?

Actually, doing things out of the limelight does seem to be Melancon’s style which helps his avoid publicity of more unsavory things he’s done to the taxpayers. For example, in the name of “research” with other members of Congress Melancon took a junket that spanned three continents, 20,000 miles and hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers’ money that culminated in viewing telescopes and sending postcards from the South Pole. And this supposed investigation into man-made climate change (effects of climate change he could have observed just as easily driving for two hours in any direction in his district) itself was based upon what has become revealed to be questionable, if not outright fraudulent, science that he consistently has defended.

All of these attempts by Melancon apologists try to deflect observation of the essential truth: Melancon has more sympathy with the liberal agenda than not, and he will go along and get along with it by opposing where he can’t slow down his masters’ preferred items but, like the faithful lap dog that he is, always supporting them when they need his vote. If nothing else, that Vitter takes strong principled positions promoting beneficial legislation in contrast to Melancon’s cravenness should tell voters all they need to know about who would be better to lead for Louisiana’s interests in the Senate.


Fulfilling requests digitally thrift idea worth pursuing

It may have cost the state $13,000, but at least it can learn what needs to be done to ensure greater efficiency particularly needed in these times of budgetary stress.

The state’s First Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that it was not good enough to fulfill a public records request just to place documents available for public inspection on the Internet, and awarded the plaintiff $13,000 in attorney’s fees because the Public Service Commission did not produce public records in a timely fashion. Part of the reason for the delay was the PSC’s contention, since the records in question already were viewable via the Internet, that it had fulfilled the request.

However, the plaintiff wanted paper copies, and the law backed him up. R.S. 44:32 states “it shall be the duty of the custodian of such public records to provide copies to persons so requesting,” even as fees may be charged. Thus, while those kinds of documents can be put out on the Internet, they still have to be provided in paper form on request.

Servicing these requests can take much employee time and some physical resources. It would be much more efficient for each agency that serves as a custodian of public records to place as many records as possible online, create simple web processes by which to access them, and be allowed to fulfill requests this way. For those who claim they do not have access to the Internet, each agency could set up terminals and printers to allow these requestors to come to the agency to get access.

Of course, this would require a change in statute to permit record provision without the state having to hand over a fee-for-service hard copy except those done at the proposed workstation and whichever records for whatever reason cannot be put online. The Legislature also would have to commit to a program of putting all possible state records online and funding the establishment of the workstations.

While this would pass along printer and paper costs to requestors (they already absorb most search costs because of the specificity required in a request), these are relatively small, not even necessary if the downloaded records are used from digital media, and certainly are dwarfed by the costs to taxpayers to fund government to do it, subsidizing a small number of requestors. In fact, they may end up being cheaper for many requestors since the state typically charges much higher fees than it actually costs in terms of printing. These changes need pursuing during the next regular session.