UPDATED: Jindal’s Press Secretary Kyle Plotkin contacted ThinkProgress and said that the Eunice News story on the deal with Caldwell is “completely false.” “There’s no truth to it,” he said. “The attorney general joined a lawsuit, and we supported it.” Caldwell also said today that “no deal of any kind or description whatsoever was made between the Governor and myself, or our respective offices regarding my budget and the health care lawsuit.”
Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is the only Democrat in the lawsuit challenging the federal government over the constitutionality of health care reform. On March 26, he explained why he joined the suit, which is being led by Florida:
As Attorney General, I am duty bound by my oath of office to pursue a request by the Governor of the state of Louisiana for legal assistance, so long as it has substantial legal merit.
To save Louisiana the potential expense of filing a separate suit regarding the health-care legislation, it was my decision to sign-on to Florida’s well-drafted action at minimal cost to Louisiana and accomplish the same legal purpose.
It’s questionable whether the suit actually has “substantial legal merit.” At least eight other attorneys general have refused to go along, saying that doing so would be a frivolous waste of taxpayer resources to make a partisan point. The Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky has also pointed out the political motivations driving the attorneys general who suing the federal government, noting that they are overwhelmingly running for running for higher office or up for re-election.
The Eunice News in Louisiana, however, is reporting that Jindal may have essentially bribed Caldwell to join the suit, promising no more cuts to his budget if he did so:
In a subsequent address to employees of his office, the Attorney General said the decision was made more out of the necessity of saving jobs in his agency than any real hope—or desire—of overturning the health care law.
One employee said Caldwell, in a candid admission, claimed that a deal was made with Jindal. Under terms of that agreement, the governor would not make additional cuts in the attorney general’s budget if Caldwell joined in the litigation. Caldwell agreed to be the “token Democrat,” he said, so that he might save additional job cuts by an administration whose state goal is to reduce the number of state employees by as much as 5,000 per year over three years.
Caldwell has been facing significant blowback for his decision to pursue Jindal’s right-wing case. Louisiana’s Black Caucus recently rallied against Caldwell, with state Rep. Regina Barrow (D) saying the services provided by the Affordable Care Act “could approximately save us $500 million. These savings could be used to cover a majority of the state budget crisis that we currently face, inclusive of higher ed.”