- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu on Thursday tried to quell critics who accused her of making a backroom deal to secure $300 million in Medicaid funding for Louisiana in the Senate’s health care reform bill.

“Nothing about this effort was secret. Nothing,” the Louisiana Democrat said in a floor speech in her most vigorous defense yet of the measure, more than two months after the provision was released.

The funding was designed to make up for a flaw in the Medicaid formula that would have cost the state $400 million to $600 million in funding because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina, she said.

Now that the health care bill is stalled in Congress, Mrs. Landrieu said she’s worried that the Medicaid fix won’t happen, leaving her state with a large budget shortfall. If the health reform bill doesn’t pass, she’s laying the groundwork to include the fix in the next health-related bill Congress takes up.

Mrs. Landrieu’s deal was quickly dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase” by critics of the health care bill who accused Mrs. Landrieu and Democratic leaders of buying votes. Mrs. Landrieu had been one of the last Democrats to support the bill, but she says this provision was not what secured her vote.

“It’s not a secret deal; it’s not a backroom deal. It was a public request,” the Louisiana Democrat told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday.

Mrs. Landrieu called out Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, for criticizing the Medicaid funding, which he once supported in a letter to the Obama administration, as well as Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who criticized the funding shortly after it was announced.

“If there is one member of this body, either the junior senator from Louisiana or the great senator from Arizona or any other senator that would like to come and talk to me about this secret effort, I would look forward to hearing your comments on the floor of this Senate,” she dared in the floor speech.

Republicans have railed against the health care bill for months over concern that it would raise taxes and lead to a government takeover of the health system. The Medicaid fix, in combination with a suspected deal to help Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and a fix for the pharmaceutical industry, led to striking criticism that Democrats were buying votes and participating in unsavory deal making to pass President Obama’s health care overhaul.

Shortly before announcing his support, Mr. Nelson helped insert language in the bill that would have billed the federal government for Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion, but he later said that was meant to be only a placeholder until he could get a similar exemption for all states.

Republicans also accused Democrats of protecting a White House deal with the pharmaceutical industry to limit their financial hit in the health care bill by blocking an amendment to allow drugs to be imported to the United States.

Mrs. Landrieu also chided Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, for not doing more in defense of the fix, which she says that he asked the Louisiana congressional delegation to secure. Publicly, he has said very little about the Medicaid request.

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