Louisiana v. Nebraska, the Senate Bowl

A sports headline brings me to thinking. The headline, in a sidebar on the front page says:

“No 5 LSU falls to 20th ranked Nebraska, 77-63”

Innocuous, bad for our sports team, and perhaps important to those who follow such things. But there is a sublime irony in these words in light of the recent horsetrading, or vote buying, or whatever you want to call it, that occurred between the full Senate and our Senator Landrieu and Nebraska’s Senator Nelson in the countdown to the health care taxation bill. The full Senate, and especially Harry Reid and whomever else is behind the closed, locked doors in the dead of night, were the referees. We the People are the spectators who are rooting for the home team.

Our Senator went into the game and won $100,000,000. And Nebraska’s Senator went into the game and won $45,000,000. Both for their Medicaid “matching” budgets. That is, each state picks up some of the tab for Medicaid and the federal government picks up the rest. I don’t know if different states have a different mix, it’s sort of irrelevant to the irony.

The amounts for both states are different because of population and number of them in “poverty.” Still, it was a game, wasn’t it? They held their breath until they turned blue and “won” their state’s money. Supposedly, both states are now better off that this short term problem is resolved until the reality strikes in a few years that the fix did not fix anything. It’s been going on like this for 40 years, doubtful it will stop any time soon. Still, for the moment, it caused the two senators to join in the rush to make the game bigger and better, new and improved, and bringing a whole new rule book and play book to the game. My, it’s going to be exciting with the new score cards.

Except the money they “won” came from the place that’s getting it. That is, it is already from Louisiana and from Nebraska that these amounts come from. There’s no other place that it can come from. In fact, it comes from the citizens of the two states. Whether the two states taxed these amounts directly and used it for Medicaid, or the money took a vacation to Washington and came back for Medicaid, it still came from the two states.

Both states won, didn’t they? Or not?

And that’s why it is ironic. The political game is so similar to sports.

Imagine if you will that Louisiana, because of its “team” — that is, the citizens of our state – is #5 in Medicaid needs ranking. Not an unlikely spot given the condition of the state. And Nebraska’s team is ranked #20. Not unlikely since they are not nearly as poor as we are. The senators are the coaches.

Because Louisiana has twice as many people as Nebraska, but 4 times as many poor, Louisiana, to get its fair share of federal Medicaid money, has to get $4 for every $1 Nebraska gets. But we didn’t, we only got twice as much. We got 100 and they got 45, which is roughly 50, or half.

LA has 4.5 million people.

NE has 2.3 million people.

LA has a 40% poverty rate — or 1,800,000 people.

NE has a 10% poverty rate – or 230,000 people.

LA got $100,000,000 for 1,800,000 = $55 per poor person.

NE got $45,000,000 for 230,000 = $195 per poor person.

$145,000,000 is being spent for 2,030,000 people = $71 per poor person.

Technically, in comparing the two states, the average dollar amount should have been that $71 per por person – and if Louisiana had kept its own money it would have that $71 to spend to help our poor, good though the poor of Nebraska may be.

Louisiana lost the game, by $16 per poor person. Big time, if you ask me. Sort of like the Saints so sadly did this weekend.

Now, if it was a fair and equitable system each state would get the exact same dollar amount per poor person.The poor of Louisiana are surely as worthy of largesse as the poor of Nebraska. Perhaps they are even cousins, given the diaspora of poor after Hurricane Katrina. In fact, Louisiana has less poor people now than it did five years ago. So if we had had the same amount of people we would have a smaller per poor person dollar amount. We don’t get the same amount, we lost the game – or rather our Senator did. And how many times can a coach lose the game before its time to fire the coach?

Now consider the difference between what each poor person gets: in Nebraska it’s $195 – and what each poor person gets in Louisiana is $55 – each poor person up north gets $125 more than our poor down south. And we have to pay $16 per poor person for the privilege. I think that is akin to selling us down the river, but I can’t be sure.

Only it’s not really the poor person. It is the state. And the state of Nebraska now has $125 more to spend on other purposes, since that amount is being covered by the federal government over what they collect for their own poor, or $71. And Louisiana has $16 less per poor person, so that the short fall must be made up by not spending on something else, or raising taxes still more.

The game was played in Washington. We lost. Nebraska won. #5 Louisiana did indeed fall to #20 Nebraska. There was no box score given by Our Advocate, though.

Alas, Our Advocate and its AP partner, filled with journalists who probably did not take as many logic, game theory and mathematics of politics courses as I did, did not see either the reality of the math nor the irony of the sports headline as political games. They didn’t even see intuitively, apparently, that there was something odd with the math of the Medicaid game. Or if they did see it, they chose to ignore it. Either case, sad, no? I know they can count somewhat, for they inform me that is but 4 days until Christmas.

But what would have happened had we played in our own league, and not the nationals?

Since Louisiana is subsidizing Nebraska – after all, I repeat: $71 per poor person is being spent – Louisiana is sending $16 from every one of our poor people so that every poor person in Nebraska can have $125 more – our poor people lost. Had we kept our money, we would have had $71 per poor person. But our Senator, who also probably did not study the math of it, evidently, badly coached our team and made bad plays, and thus lost to Nebraska.

Or perhaps Ms. Landrieu is just a nice gal. Isn’t that nice. Not quite Mardi Gras beads thrown from a float, but real live doubloons just as willingly caught by our friends to the north at the big parade.

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