A Romney cabinet post is not right for Jindal
Unless Mitt Romney taps him as his running mate and wins, come next January Gov. Bobby Jindal will still have the job he says he wants. The oft-touted alternative—that Jindal would accept a Cabinet post under Romney—doesn’t fit his career trajectory. His having tasted supreme power probably spoils Jindal for working for someone else again. Also, doing so would divert him from seeking the job he really wants, eventually.
Given the governor’s background, the federal department he would seem fit to run is Health and Human Services, which has “dead-end” written all over it. Even with a GOP-controlled Senate, the messy ordeal of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act with something that works better, if at all, would be fraught with controversy and pitfalls that would cry out for a fall guy: namely, the secretary.
Besides, as powerful and high-profile a Cabinet position is, what is the future in that? Who was the last Cabinet secretary to be elected president? Answer: Herbert Hoover—hardly the historical precedent Republicans would want for their next candidate.
So if the Jindal family is not moving into the vice president’s residence on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory early next year, the governor will be back at his current job, which will be messy enough.
Though he is a top vice-presidential contender, the knock on Jindal is that, unlike former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty or Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, he doesn’t deliver a strategic state. What it takes to overcome that, besides the novelty of his ethnicity, is an indisputable record of having turned a wayward state around. Despite what his public relations operation claims, closer inspection shows he hasn’t done that yet. If he is to be a future presidential contender, the challenge and opportunity awaiting him back home is the state’s health care system, which finds itself in the lurch of an emergent funding crisis.
The state’s Medicaid program already had problems before Congress dug the hole deeper by unexpectedly chopping $650 million in federal support, which compounds to $860 million in deficit with match money factored in.
The Jindal administration partially addressed the shortfall last week by announcing $552 million in spending reductions, with most of that falling on the LSU-run charity hospital network, which loses $330 million, or a quarter of its state funding. The administration does not envision any of the 10 public hospitals having to close, which only the Legislature can authorize, but it certainly leaves LSU officials in a quandary over how to keep them all open.
In its cup-half-full statement, the Jindal administration framed LSU’s dire situation as an opportunity “to remake the system into something sustainable,” the inference being that the current mode of operation is not.
For five years, the relationship between the Jindal administration and LSU, particularly the Health Care Services Division, has been marked by friction and frustration. State officials have all but called LSU HCSD incompetent in handling its finances. Yet, because LSU, like other university systems, is set in the constitution, the governor cannot by executive order dispatch programs and personnel, as he does with other state agencies. All he and the Legislature can do is control the flow of money.
Now, however, with the LSU Board of Supervisors newly repacked by Jindal and with an interim president far more cooperative than his fired predecessor, it’s the governor who has the opportunity, with a shove from Congress, to force a restructuring of the hospital system, without having to do the dirty work himself.
That future framework is unclear, but it is bound to include more public-private partnerships, such as the one LSU has struck with Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, instead of more investment in state facilities.
With the newly privatized managed care model for treating much of the Medicaid population and mental health needs, and with the future of the charity hospital system in play, Jindal is positioned to undo the most enduring legacy of Huey Long. If things work out that way, it would be the kind of transformational change he needs to show in order to build his case for the next job he wants.
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