By Robert Mann
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is safe for now, and let’s hope Congress will fix its flaws and enhance it, something members should have done years ago. Correcting the ACA would be impossible if three Republican senators — Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Arizona’s John McCain — hadn’t opposed repealing the law and, with it, insurance for tens of millions of people.
As we praise them, however, let’s save some applause for former Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who cast a crucial 60th vote for the ACA in December 2009. In the decades-long fight for universal health care coverage — still an aspiration in the world’s wealthiest nation — few deserve praise more than Landrieu. If she had voted no, the bill might never have become law.
In 2009, Landrieu knew Louisiana’s politics were shifting to the right. In a state once dominated by Democrats, she was isolated. Her upcoming 2014 reelection, never a sure thing, was precarious. She eventually would run in the sixth year of Barack Obama’s presidency, a dangerous period for a congressional Democrat in the Deep South.
She knew the voters who sent her to Washington three times might reject her for supporting Obama’s health care program. “It was a very difficult vote,” Landrieu told me by phone from Washington on Wednesday.
If you were Landrieu in 2009, wondering what might increase your reelection chances, opposing Obamacare would have been a reasonable bet. “I knew that could be a career-ending vote,” she said. “It’s not that I doubted it was the right vote, but I knew the storm of disinformation” would blow long after Obama signed the bill and throughout its implementation.
I argued in March 2014 that Landrieu, while vulnerable, wouldn’t lose because of her ACA vote. The state’s political and demographic changes were greater factors in her loss to Republican Bill Cassidy. Landrieu, however, maintains “it was a factor.”
Still, had she opposed the bill, it might not have helped her much. As I suggested in 2014: “Had she stopped Obamacare, would Republicans be holding parades in her honor?” Nope. Republicans would have waged war on her, regardless of her ACA vote and would still have savaged her for supporting Obama 97 percent of the time (or, absent her pro-ACA vote, 96 percent).
With then-Gov. Bobby Jindal undermining Obamacare in Louisiana — and national Republicans waging a dishonest smear campaign — many Louisiana voters accepted the deceitful portrayal of the law he, then-Sen. David Vitter and other Republicans fed them.
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.