Mary Landrieu and the Lousiania Purchase

Posted on November 23, 2009

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As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, on Saturday night (yet another example of fantastic legislative transparency) the Senate voted to open debate on Sen. Reid’s health care bill by a margin of 60-39. Several moderate Democrats had expressed reservations about the bill, including Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and Joe Lieberman (yes, technically an independent, but who caucuses) with the Democrats. They all ended up voting to open debate while remaining wishy-washy on their final vote, but the vote of Sen. Mary Landrieu is one that deserves further consideration.

Sen. Landrieu is one of those red state Democrats who had expressed reservations about the bill’s cost and scope. Yet on Saturday she shrugged off those concerns and voted to bring the bill to the floor. One factor that may have contributed to her decision is a provision of the bill that will send $100 million to her home state of Louisiana in dementedly arcane legalese that doesn’t specifically name Louisiana but offers conditions for which only Louisiana qualifies.

It sure seems like a political buy-off, doesn’t it? The move was sarcastically dubbed the “Louisiana Purchase,” and on the surface, I don’t think a more apt name could have been chosen. Sen. Landrieu was keenly aware of the appearance of impropriety and as she took the Senate floor to announce her vote, said she wouldn’t be defensive. But she didn’t help her cause when she said, “And it’s not a $100 million fix. It’s a $300 million fix.”

Is this the kind of government we can be proud of? Is this the way we want sweeping health care upheaval enacted? Can reform supporters simply shrug this off as “the ends justify the means” and “just politics as usual”? Because I can’t. I don’t care how many times earmarks or political windfalls have been helpfully inserted into legislation by whatever party in the past. On an issue that concerns 1/6 of the American economy, it’s unacceptable to me to have Senators put their votes up for auction with the taxpayers’ money, of which Dana Milbank says we’ll surely see more examples. On a $20 million farm bill it’s egregious; on a $1 trillion perpetual entitlement program it borders on criminality.

Landrieu can excuse herself all she wants, and supporters can equivocate until the end of time. I have no faith now that Landrieu will act on her supposed concerns with the bill and will approve whatever comes through to the final vote simply so she can score some money and political capital at home. With what seems to be an obvious payoff, she’s shown what kind of politician she is – a typical one.

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