Edwards loses on contract dispute, but not much
Maybe they both blinked a little, but it seems the more severe eye-watering came from Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards. Although, for him, maybe not for naught.
Last week, the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget approved contracts for Medicaid service providers that manage insurance for 1.5 million Louisianans. It took four tries for Edwards to have approved the $15.4 billion worth of business, or about a quarter of state spending for the next two years, to pass legislators’ muster.
Originally, almost two months ago, the House wanted some changes, primarily to ensure close scrutiny by the Legislative Auditor. The Edwards Administration admitted the benefits of such language and did not argue it could not add that with difficulty. But Edwards, looking to manufacture controversy that could aid his reelection campaign, dug in his heels and refused to do so.
After the third rejection – where Edwards had made almost no attempt to modify the documents along the lines requested by the Republican majority among the House members seated on the JLCB – he decided to threaten to fold, spindle, and mutilate the law by saying he would issue emergency rules approving the contracts that would bypass the committee. R.S. 49:953 permits the executive branch to do so, which completely shuts out the Legislature although it would have a chance to veto the rule after its issuance.
At the time, a month ago, Edwards said the process must begin immediately and submitted documentation to start it. Yet then he never followed through with it, in part because he must have known he skated on thin ice as far as legal justification went for his contemplated action
The “crisis” that would present “imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare” was entirely hypothetical, as the contracts did not expire until Jan. 31, 2018, making for an argument that strained credulity. Even though the House Republicans on the committee had the numbers to reject the ratification attempts all three times without any from the Senate side also voting for rejection, Edwards’ unilateral and questionable move aroused 16 GOP senators to petition Republican Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s opinion on the matter. In response, Landry expressed reservations about the maneuver’s legality.
Calling Edwards on it provided some impetus for him to back down. The day before the most recent JLCB meeting, he instructed insertion of language into the documents explicitly calling for legislative auditor review, despite having declared that delineation unnecessary prior to this time, in that state law should account for that and only had placed phrasing to that effect in previous versions. With those changes, the JLCB unanimously approved.
So, in large part the House leadership got what it wanted, and in policy terms won the battle. Yet Edwards also may come out a winner as well. If he can sell this as a story of him as a sober, responsible elected official overcoming the pettiness of politicians who would rather obstruct than govern to score political points, then he can get some good public relations out of the forced crisis.
And maybe that was the entire point?
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 13:30