Two days after John Bel Edwards took the oath of office and became the 56th governor of Louisiana and only a day after issuing an executive order, his first ever, that expands Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 working class residents, at approximately 7:45PM Central Standard Time, Air Force One touched down on the tarmac in Baton Rouge. Twenty four hours earlier, President Obama had been delivering in final State of the Union speech in front of the entire country.
Now, he was in the capital of Louisiana, a city he’d never visited before, shaking hands with a governor he’d never met before.
If a picture of John Bel Edwards shaking President Obama’s hand had been taken three months ago, his opponent, David Vitter, would have salivated at the chance to blanket the entire state with the photo, even if it required spending millions of campaign dollars. Unfortunately for Vitter, by the time John Bel Edwards finally got the chance to meet President Obama, Edwards was governor, and Vitter, ignobly, was on his way out of the U.S. Senate, with his tail between his legs, finally and humiliatingly defeated after 26 years in elective office.
Until late last night, the purpose of President Obama’s visit had been largely unknown, even among members of Gov. Edwards’ brand new staff. They knew the President would be staying the night at a local Holiday Inn, waking up early, having breakfast (catered by the iconic Baton Rouge greasy spoon restaurant Louie’s), and then addressing a group of students and citizens at a local high school before flying out shortly before 1PM.
But it turns out President Obama was here, deliberately, to deliver a personal message to our new governor. According to The Advocate, the President intends on asking Congress to provide the same deal for Medicaid expansion that early adopting states received: Full, 100% federal funding for the program’s first three years. If ultimately passed, it would require the new governor to edit his executive order, which only anticipated 100% funding in 2016, followed by 95% funding in 2017, and 94% funding in 2018.
Congressional approval would provide equitable treatment to other states that, as a result of politically-motivated delays, missed the initial deadlines under the law. For Louisiana, one of the poorest states in the country, most importantly, it would free up money at a time in which the state now faces a $1.9 billion deficit. Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, even without the reprieve (what I am referring to as the “Jindal mulligan”), is still estimated to save more than $100 million from the state general fund by the year 2020.
President Obama’s proposal will add to those savings and ensure that the program’s roll-out is less complicated. More importantly, it puts Louisiana in the exact situation it would have been on the day before Bobby Jindal obstinately refused to accept federal expansion dollars.
Louisiana, no doubt, wishes we could cash in on several other Jindal mulligans, but this is the most critical one.
Welcome to Baton Rouge, Mr. President. Most guests bring a bottle of red wine or a tray of desserts. You really outdid yourself, sir. Thank you.