Landrieu has maintained her position in part by balancing the demands of the national Democratic party with the views of her constituents. She supports the Keystone pipeline and opposes cap-and-trade legislation. She recently became chairman of the Senate energy committee, where she can, and surely will, push for offshore oil and gas development, a move backed by the many companies that do business off Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.
In 2014, though, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama is boosting Democratic fortunes at the top of the ticket, and right now, the Democrats’ troubled health-care bill appears likely to overshadow all other issues.
Many endangered Democrats have pled ignorance and turned quickly on the Affordable Care Act this year, but Landrieu has done a more delicate dance. She proposed a bill to allow people to keep health-insurance plans canceled due to the law, but she’s refused to back down from the president’s promise that Americans “can keep their plans.” She told The Weekly Standard in October, “We said when we passed that, ‘If you had insurance that was good insurance that you wanted to keep it, you could keep it.’” She also said in August that traveling to Europe made her ashamed of her own country because “their workers all manage to have health insurance that can’t be taken away.”
Enter Bill Cassidy, M.D., the Republican congressman determined to make Landrieu pay for her support for the law. A physician who has spent years treating the indigent in Louisiana’s charity-hospital system, Cassidy says he ran for Congress in 2008 so that he could play a role in the national health-care debate.
Over lunch at George’s, a dimly lit dive that sits under an I-10 overpass in Baton Rouge, Cassidy rails against Louisiana’s state hospital system, which he believes augurs poorly for the fate of Obamacare. By way of illustration, he tells me about a coworker, a Ugandan doctor who, after navigating his truck through the potholes that litter the drive to the entrance of the old Earl K. Long Medical Center, which closed last year, exclaimed, “I thought I was in Kampala!”
“When the bureaucrat has the power, the patient’s service suffers,” Cassidy says. President Obama and the Democrats who crafted the Affordable Care Act “never had my formative experience.”
That experience includes nearly three decades working with poor and uninsured patients, who constitute an above-average share of Louisiana’s population. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he mobilized a group of volunteers to convert an abandoned Kmart into a field hospital where he and others treated storm victims.