Cameron Henry listening to OGB presentation

Louisiana House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, listens Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 to administration officials explain a life insurance rate increase for state employees and retirees. Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, is in the foreground.

Advocate photo by Mark Ballard

In politics, as in sports, an ugly win is still a W. And an L is still an L, which is where Cameron Henry of Metairie appears to be leading the House GOP caucus. Again.

A clash between Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and a group of House Republicans over multibillion-dollar Medicaid contracts continues, with the governor saying he is forced to act under emergency powers because the managed care plans were not renewed by the Legislature's joint budget committee.

The committee of both House and Senate members had largely backed a two-year renewal of the management contract first negotiated by former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration. But under the budget rules, decisions need the assent of the majority of members in each chamber; the GOP senators backed the renewal, but Henry's House members objected.

The contract extensions are not the place for debates about the scope of Medicaid services; they are just hiring the managed care companies. But it's a must-pass bill, as otherwise the state would have to revert to the old fee-for-service model, leading to chaos in health care markets.

Henry has seized upon the contracts in a classical Washington maneuver: Throw up roadblocks to a must-pass bill, whether objections are relevant or not. Typically, that's a come-and-see-me bit of extortion, with the objections being something that the administration could cough up for negotiation's sake.

This is the wrong bill, at the wrong time. And in December when the contracts were supposed to come up for a final vote on the joint budget panel, what did the Henry caucus have to gain? The best they could say is that Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera should have language in the contracts about oversight of spending.

The auditors' authority is already pretty sweeping, and it is not clear if Purpera was wise to allow his nonpartisan agency to become a part of this discussion at all. Ducking is supposed to be an essential skill in the State Capitol.

It's a partisan fight over an administrative issue, and Edwards has the upper hand on the merits.

If anything, Edwards confused the issue by taking emergency action, as the GOP dissenters argue now that the governor would be overreaching his authority — because of a needless crisis pushed by his enemies. Napoleon is said to have remarked that you do not interfere with the enemy when he is in the process of destroying himself. 

That's where the L comes in: Ultimately, the threat was that House members would throw a wrench into the payment plans for thousands of health care providers. Would they have ultimately done that? Doubtful.

Even if there are some vague language concessions about oversight, this is a W? Henry is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, where he is well-liked; a former House staffer to Steve Scalise, now a congressman, he is solicitous of staff as well as legislators.

But as perhaps the key legislative leader to the opposition to Edwards, Henry is supposed to fight battles his followers can win. They lost in a key vote on the budget this summer, with a narrow House majority bucking the House GOP leadership.

Henry needs a W, and it's far from clear managed care contracts will provide it.

Cordell Haymon: It's been a big November for the Baton Rouge civic leader, presiding at the 2017 Louisiana Smart Growth Summit as board chairman and then receiving the Golden Deeds Award, presented annually by The Advocate and the Inter-civic League. His leadership has benefited the state as well as his own city.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

Our Views: Renew contracts for managed care