Despite Previous Support, Vitter Now Mum on ‘Louisiana Purchase’

Posted December 7, 2009 at 1:10pm

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is staying mum on whether he will help defeat a provision in the health care reform bill Republicans have dubbed the “Louisiana Purchase,— even though he has worked all year on the language that would provide $300 million in Medicaid subsidies to his home state.

Republicans have accused Vitter’s Louisiana colleague, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D), of selling her health care vote for the provision.

Vitter said he is “not comfortable— with the Medicaid language being in the health care bill and may vote on a forthcoming GOP amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to strike the provision.

“I’m not comfortable with that fix on this bill. I’d rather see it on the president’s budget next year,— Vitter said.

“He is holding off judgment specifically on the Coburn amendment until it comes forward for an actual vote,— Vitter spokesman Joel DiGrado added.

Vitter likely won’t have to make that choice, since Coburn’s amendment is not expected to reach the floor for a vote. And while Vitter has not publicly stated his opinion, Coburn suggested his Louisiana colleague is at least privately not pleased.

“My staff and his staff have talked, and they’re not happy with us,— Coburn said.

The provision at issue would increase Medicaid subsidies to states that have been declared a major disaster area in the past seven years. The only states likely to qualify are Hawaii and Louisiana.

The fix has been a pet project for the Louisiana delegation all year. Vitter joined Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), Landrieu and Louisiana’s seven House Members at a January meeting to discuss how to advance the Medicaid fix. In September, a Vitter aide reached out to the delegation to sign on to a letter to President Barack Obama to push for the provision, according to an e-mail obtained by Roll Call. It is unclear whether the letter was ever sent.

In the weeks since the Senate’s Nov. 21 vote to begin debate on the health care bill, Republicans have hammered Landrieu on the Medicaid provision and asserted that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) included the language in the overall package in order to “buy— her crucial support. With Landrieu’s backing, Reid secured the necessary 60 votes of his Democratic Conference to begin debate on the health care package.

Indeed, Vitter “finds it extremely offensive that it is being used to buy votes for this government takeover of health care,— spokesman DiGrado said.

The criticism prompted outage from Landrieu, who maintained that “Harry Reid under no circumstances said to me, ‘If you vote for this, I will put [the Medicaid provision] in the bill.’—

Landrieu, who shares a testy relationship with Vitter, has launched into a counteroffensive and will likely ask her Republican counterpart to publicly oppose the Coburn amendment.

“I’m disappointed that he hasn’t spoken out, but I wouldn’t expect him to,— Landrieu said in a brief interview. “But that’s just the way he is. … He’s not a team player, and I think people know that at home.—