Trying to rebuild the Democrat brand in Louisiana is a tough task, even when you have an easy audience of reporters whose ideological faith by and large has them proclaiming “hallelujah” to the task. But if this is the best that state Rep. Walt Leger can do, he’d better get used to being on the outside of power looking in.
Leger, who serves as the speaker pro-tem in the Louisiana House of Representatives, addressed the weekly exercise of capitol-area media members intended to demonstrate their relevance by attracting newsworthy speakers, a meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge. Not only his position, which makes him likely the most powerful Democrat in state government, but also his membership as apparently the only Democrat in the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign made what he had to say of some note.
And on the subject of that affiliation with the group that terms themselves the “fiscal hawks,” Leger did have an accurate observation. He noted the internal contradiction that existed with the group’s presumed signature achievement during the legislative system, asserting a sharp decrease in the amount of “one-time money” in the budget, or dollars budgeted from recurring sources that are not from the general fund and money that comes from one-off transactions such as property sales. The main mechanism by which to replace these bucks, was the use of a tax amnesty program which, as far as he was concerned, “kicked the can down the road” and “doesn’t fix the root problem.”
Rightly so. Amnesty is itself just another kind of one-time money, but one that has escaped the fatwa issued by the “hawks” and thereby is not part of the “problem” by their convenient definition. Whether Leger admits to or actually understands the genuine root problem is another matter. The use of one-time money merely is a symptom of the larger disease that Louisiana’s fiscal policies cordons off all sorts of money from general fund use, with little rationality or holistic analysis as to whether revenues should be collected from a particular source in a particular amount for a particular purpose. This straitjacket provides too much money for low priority or even things that should not be done at all by government while starving higher priority items. One-time money becomes a necessary corrective to ensure that unused surpluses of cash taken from the people just don’t sit around by shifting them from where they won’t get used to purposes of greater need.
The hawks consistently have made the mistake of saying that by suppressing the symptoms – the riddance of one-time money – fiscal health is restored all the while the disease really runs unchecked. Leger seems enthralled in this fantasy as well by proclaiming the reduction of one-time money was a positive outcome (even with amnesty proceeds the amount being used in the passed budget is about half of what originally had been budgeted) and never mentioning the real disease cure – loosening dedications, acting upon a thorough review of them to properly place priorities on them for annual budgeting untied to any revenue source to give maximum discretion, and ditching revenue collection from sources tied to purposes that are of low priority or should not be done by government.
Worse from the perspective of offering solutions instead of gamesmanship, in this talk he used his manipulation of the “hawks” as an example of how to empower his political party. Perhaps earlier than anybody of his ilk, Leger recognized how the one-time money issue could be used to drive a wedge between principled and populist conservatism among his Republican opponents, certainly which would have motivated him to join the “hawks.” With the “hawks” following the populist tactic of creating bogeymen using symbols over substance to boost their political fortunes and willing to increase government’s redistributionist role to pull it off, the traditional purveyors of this method the Democrats could bring them into their orbit and get the “hawks” to assist in their never-ending quest to enlarge government.
And with the “hawks’” complicity Democrats succeeded, growing government by $600 million (which is minus over $100 million in additional revenues recognized late in the session) from the budget submitted by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Which Leger applauded in his remarks, calling this an example of working together to solve problems.
Thereby, Leger uncorks an oldie-but-goodie leftist tactic employed when Democrats must face the consequences of losing the battle of ideas in elections, as opposed to when they manage to win them. In that latter majority situation, they plow ahead treating Republican opposition as illegitimate, if they even recognize its existence.
But put them in the minority, and you get from them Leger’s rhetoric where “working together” is the key to making policy beneficial to all and needed for the future, where the choice becomes one between revanchist impulses or progress, encapsulated in his query of “Are we going to fall back into our old ways or will there be a renewed commitment to bipartisanship and moderate policies … against extremism?” Note how he accords the asserted inferior mode of governance occurring in the recent period of largely triumphant conservative-based reform (the “old”) that is “extremism” while he defines as superior public policy the intentional insertion of liberalism from “bipartisanship” to achieve somehow a kind of balance that creates “moderate policies.”
Again, you never hear Democrats like Leger call for “bipartisanship” or “moderate policies” when they are the majority and condemning their own “extremism;” they just run as roughshod as they can over the minority (the fish rots from the head down) in the belief they have the right to govern with what they allege are better ideas. But suddenly it is illegitimate in the mind of Leger for a majority other than his own, Republicans, to do the same over his minority Democrats, and he demands a right to govern not deserved by their inability to persuade enough voters. The hypocritical convenience of it all is breathtaking but never unexpected.
The disingenuousness displayed by those remarks extends to others he made concerning the state’s rejection of expansion of Medicaid made optional under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Leger calls this decision not to increase costs and lower quality of care an example of something “missed out this session” and should be reversed in the future. He therefore recommended that the state make a waiver request to the federal government to “devise our own program” and calls Jindal’s refusal to do so “irresponsible.”
But why do so when the federal government already has answered the question negatively? In its infamous “Good Friday” memo prior to the session it essentially stated that Medicaid reform principles supported by Jindal and others were unwelcome in the government-empowering framework that it wished to extend through Obamacare. What would be the point when what remains permissible would provide for worse and more expensive care than by not expanding coverage? Either Leger knows this and spouts the line to try to score political points, or he’s ignorant, which is not becoming of the House’s second-ranked figure.
Either way, while this may have been red meat thrown to a sympathetic crowd, the intellectual dishonesty of it all when exposed for what it is makes it ineffective to win the battle of ideas that would put people like Leger back in power.