Now that the U.S. House has adopted President Barack Obama's health care plan, Louisiana's two senators find themselves on the hot seat as the legislation moves to the Upper Chamber. It's a debate you can expect to hear a lot about — almost immediately. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, was expected to bring the health care legislation to the floor last week. Additionally, the Employment Policies Institute, a D.C.-based nonprofit research group that leans Republican, is now airing advertisements in the New Orleans area. The "high-saturation campaign" is spending $10 million across six states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska and North Dakota. The ad features June O'Neill, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, who says in the spot, "They will add hundreds of billions of dollars to the already $12 trillion national debt. We are paying $500 million a day in interest alone. This growing debt is unsustainable."
For junior Sen. David Vitter, R-Metairie, the decision is an easy one: He's been opposed to the plan for months. This year, Vitter has held more than two dozen health care town meetings, including a few in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, and he says, "It has been made expressly clear to me that Louisianians do not support anything like a government option." That option, which would allow people to sign up for government-run health care, is at the heart of Obama's proposal. "Instead, people I've spoken to want a much more focused approach to the problems that do exist, like buying insurance across state lines, tort reform and lowering prescription drug costs through reimportation," Vitter says. "We need real concrete reforms and a real focus on those problems with a scalpel, not with a sledgehammer."
It's also becoming quite likely that Louisiana's U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu could potentially buck her party to stand with junior Senator David Vitter, a Republican. Landrieu says she is "extremely concerned about a government-run, taxpayer-funded, national public plan," but she's leaving the door open to negotiations. "Senators who back different versions of a public option could potentially lead to a compromise," Landrieu says. "I believe this compromise should happen sooner, rather than later, so we can get to work on other critical aspects of heath care reform, such as out-of-control premiums, denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, gender discrimination and antitrust exemption. These are important issues that deserve serious consideration and should not be overshadowed by the current all-consuming discussion of the public option that is dominating Capitol Hill."
As chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Landrieu has expressed concern that President Obama's plan wouldn't do enough for small businesses, a worry shared by business interests back in Louisiana. Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, says small businesses would become casualties if the bill becomes law because of its tax requirements, mandates and increased paperwork. "The proposed mandate that would require small businesses to provide an expensive health insurance policy or pay a large fine or fee would severely impact many small businesses that operate at a loss or a razor-thin profit margin," Juneau says. "This provision could affect the job security and wages of their employees." — Jeremy Alford