Southern Justice

Is Mary Landrieu a political prostitute or political martyr?

Senator Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) recently sparked an uproar over her brokering of $300 million dollars for Louisiana in exchange for her vote to bring the health-care bill to the floor of the Senate. As a resident of Louisiana, I’m not offended—instead, I would like to thank her. Landrieu is not apologetic for her request, and there is no reason she should be. In fact, in a more just world Louisiana would be compensated for much more than $300 million.

Many Republicans are calling Landrieu’s provision the “new Louisiana Purchase.” However, it’s a bit early to assume that Landrieu’s vote has been “purchased.” She made an unequivocal preliminary clarification that her vote to bring the debate to the floor “should in no way be construed by the supporters of this current framework as an indication of how I might vote as this debate comes to an end.” She has stated that she will not vote for a version of the bill containing a public option.

Despite these statements, GOP backlash against the senator has been fierce. Some Republicans have called Landrieu a political prostitute, even labeling her the Magnolia Madame—ironic because it was not Landrieu, but rather a Republican senator from Louisiana, who was recently involved in a not-so-figurative prostitution ring. Landrieu should not be considered a “prostitute” in any sense; judging by her actions, “martyr” would be a more correct word.

In remaining firm in her position against a public option for the bill, she has risked alienation from the Senate Democrats desperately vying for its inclusion. She has avoided partisan pressure, faithfully representing the view of her constituents, who are staunchly opposed to a public option. In essence, she is doing her job, which also includes putting Louisiana on equal footing with the rest of the country.

Nor are the funds that Landrieu has inserted in her provision arbitrary pork funds meant to serve as a sweetener for Louisiana. The Medicaid system as it now stands is supported by costs split between the state and federal government. However, the share that the federal government pays differs from state to state, which means that some states with stronger legislators are paying less. Until Landrieu took on such a prominent role in blocking the filibuster this past weekend, she has not had the clout to affect the unfair legislation which has put Louisiana at a disadvantage.


In addition, a very particular quirk in the Medicaid formula has essentially penalized Louisiana for the recovery efforts going on in the state. Because of the large influx of insurance money and federal grants after Katrina, the per-capita income of Louisiana appeared to rise. In Landrieu’s own words, this formula makes Louisiana seem like Connecticut even though it remains one of the poorest states in the country. This has triggered a readjustment of the amount that the federal government gives to Louisiana, which essentially means that Louisiana will have to come up with an extra $472 million to continue providing Medicaid without any cuts of services.

Republicans are now using Landrieu as a scapegoat to mount an attack on the ethics of Democrats, but they fail to see that Landrieu is actually a moderate trying to protect her constituency. In the new media age of sound bites, the idea of a “new Louisiana purchase’’ is more potent than trying to explain an anomaly in the Medicaid system to the body politic. It’s worth remembering, though, that the Louisiana Purchase wasn’t so bad for America in the end.

Charles A. LaCalle ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Kirkland House.


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