WASHINGTON — When the Democratic-led U.S. Senate budget plan was approved by one vote, Sen. Mary Landrieu represented one of only two senators from the Deep South to vote for the plan that was opposed by every Republican.
With re-election looming next year for Landrieu, some of the Louisiana Democrat’s potential campaign opponents — Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, and John Fleming, R-Minden — quickly went to work attacking her votes in favor of the first Senate budget in four years and against several GOP-led amendments.
The argument they made is she can no longer claim to be a “moderate.”
The $3.7 trillion Senate budget would increase taxes, mostly through eliminating loopholes and deductions that primarily benefit the wealthy, and make budget reductions. But the budget under the plan would not balance for 10 years.
The competing House-approved budget sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is intended to balance the budget in a decade, but Democrats contend it makes draconian cuts to health care, education, infrastructure and more.
Negotiations to reconcile the two budgets are at an impasse.
Before the many Senate votes began, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters he sees the whole exercise as a worthless charade.
“It means nothing,” McCain said. “It has zero impact on anybody, especially now when everybody knows and it’s no secret that the House and Senate budgets will never reconcile.”
But that will not stop the politicking for what is expected to be a contentious 2014 Senate race for Landrieu’s re-election. She was first elected to the Senate in 1997. In addition to Cassidy and Fleming, other candidates who are flirting with a run are former congressman Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, and Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge.
The Senate’s budget voting process lets Republicans force votes on many amendments. That allowed GOP senators to make their Democratic colleagues create a paper trail of votes that oppose amendments, such as, repealing the medical devise tax, stopping illegal immigrants from getting free health care, and stopping some welfare recipients from getting free or discounted mobile phones.
The “vote-a-rama” lasted until close to 4 a.m. on March 23 with senators like David Vitter, R-La., arguing he was willing to keep voting until nearly sunrise.
After the “vote-a-rama” had ended, state GOP Chairman Roger Villere quickly struck out against Landrieu with what he called “Mary’s wild night.”
“While Americans are struggling to put food on the table, Mary Landrieu is voting in favor of illegal immigrants and tax increases,” Villere stated. “Her votes reflect her true, liberal colors. Mary can no longer disguise herself as a moderate.”
During the next few days, Fleming followed with five consecutive anti-Landrieu press releases. Cassidy sent out a fundraising advertisement criticizing her Senate budget vote and her support of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
Landrieu argued the Senate budget protects the middle class. She also had Louisiana-specific measures in the bill to tout.
She successfully amended the budget to allow currently threatened construction and funding for Veterans Affairs clinics in Lafayette and Lake Charles to move forward to fix a bureaucratic financing problem.
The Senate bill also encourages increased revenue sharing with Louisiana and other states for offshore oil-and-gas production. Landrieu said the budget does not single out the oil-and-gas industry for tax hikes. The Senate budget offers support for building the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas, which Landrieu backs.
Landrieu defended her support for the Senate budget and the Affordable Care Act. She said the people of Louisiana will judge her based on her actions in support of them.
“It (the Senate budget) is a balanced approach of revenues and cuts that reaches the important target of getting our deficit below 3 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product),” Landrieu said.
The House’s Ryan budget instead tries to balance the budget “on the back of the middle class,” she said.
Landrieu criticized Cassidy and Fleming for also voting in favor of the defeated Republican Study Committee budget that makes much sharper cuts and is meant to balance the federal budget in five years. “It would be a blueprint for economic disaster,” she said.
The Republican Study Committee budget, which also was backed by Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, and Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, was defeated by 118 Republicans because most Democrats voted “present” and forced Republicans to have to reject it.
Among other things, Fleming and Villere also criticized Landrieu for opposing the amendment to repeal the medical device tax, which is a 2.3 percent tax hike on medical device companies’ revenues to help pay for the Affordable Care Act to expand health insurance to millions of more Americans.
“I support the Affordable Care Act, and I’m going to defend it,” Landrieu said. “I’m not going to piecemeal it by stripping away the things with which we pay for it.”
She also had support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, or DSCC, to attack Cassidy and Fleming for their House budget votes.
“John Fleming and Bill Cassidy again embraced an extreme budget that would have disastrous consequences for Louisiana seniors, students, and middle-class families,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky, arguing that the two Republicans are “putting tax breaks for millionaires and special interests ahead of creating jobs and making college more affordable.”
Kirby Goidel, a political analyst and director of the LSU Public Policy Research Lab, called the Senate budget a “tough vote” for Landrieu. “Given that it’s a party-line vote, it does give them (Republican opponents) the opportunity to paint her as just another Democrat in an increasingly red state,” Goidel said.
Landrieu is also unlikely to receive support from voters who opposed “Obamacare” and the Senate budget anyway, he said. “I think she is best positioning herself as the voice fighting for what’s best for Louisiana.”
Cassidy was quick to link Landrieu to President Barack Obama. He criticized the tax hikes and federal spending in the Senate budget and then took aim at Landrieu for two of her amendment votes.
“The first was a vote on a simple, no-strings attached amendment that would force the flawed Democrat budget to actually balance itself over 10 years,” Cassidy stated in his fundraising ad.
“The other instructive vote was on an amendment to the budget that would’ve repealed Obamacare and repurposed the tax money dedicated to its implementation,” Cassidy continued. “Sen. Landrieu voted against this one as well – showing Louisianans that she wants to keep Obamacare going and make it a permanent part of our daily lives.”
Fleming had press releases with titles such as “Landrieu Votes for Obamacare, Again,” “Landrieu Supports Taxes on Life-Saving Medical Devices and Subsidized Health Care for Illegal Immigrants,” “Landrieu Supports Higher Taxes and More Spending” and others.
“The budget she voted for last weekend calls for nearly $1 trillion in new taxes,” Fleming stated. “Mary Landrieu has shown no willingness to stop Washington’s out-of-control spending.”
At one point, the Senate’s vote-a-rama evening led to Landrieu lashing out a bit. Her target – freshman LSen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz had forced a vote on an amendment to cut funding to the United Nations for allowing any member nation – in this case, China – that sanctions involuntary abortions.
The end result of the amendment was forcing Democrats to seemingly either vote with involuntary abortions or against the United Nations. Funding for the U.N. is keeping innocent people safe from genocide through peacekeeping work in places all over the world like Darfur in Sudan and in the Congo, Landrieu said.
“I went over to Sen. Cruz to introduce myself,” Landrieu said, adding that she recommended to him, “Maybe you should suggest Texas cut exports to China rather than cut the United Nations.”
“I thought the amendment was grandstanding,” she added. “He (Cruz) seemed a little bemused by it.”