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Clout — and lack thereof 

Louisiana officially sent its new congressional delegation to Washington last week when Ralph Abraham, Garret Graves and Bill Cassidy were sworn in as members of the 114th Congress. Abraham represents Louisiana's 5th Congressional District and Graves, the 6th. Cassidy is Louisiana's new junior senator, having defeated U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who had been in the job for 18 years. By this time next year, however, Cassidy could become Louisiana's senior senator — with barely one year in office. That's because U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana's new senior senator (he's been there a decade), announced last year that he intends to run for governor later this year. Early polls give him a good shot of winning, but Election Day is still a long way off.

  Louisiana's congressional delegation has just eight members — two senators and six representatives. That means our state does not have the "numbers" to flex any measure of political muscle in the Beltway. The only way for Louisiana to get any real attention in Washington is to have congressmen and/or senators with seniority and clout. For decades, that's exactly how we got major programs and projects, including vital hurricane protection. Until recently, Louisiana appeared to be well-positioned, particularly in the Senate. Landrieu was among the ranking Democrats and Vitter is poised to serve as a committee chair now that the GOP controls the Upper Chamber.

  Landrieu's defeat at the polls will cost Louisiana in the foreseeable future, and her loss to Cassidy also means our state has to start over with Graves in Cassidy's former 6th Congressional District seat. Abraham succeeds former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister, who was in office only a year — and McAllister was an embarrassment almost from day one. To make matters worse, a year from now four of our eight delegation members (two representatives and both senators) could be rookies if Vitter wins the governor's race.

  On the bright side, the two men who represent southeast Louisiana in the House — Steve Scalise and Cedric Richmond — already have acquired some measure of clout. Scalise is the House Majority Whip; Richmond is seen as a rising star in the Black Caucus. Nationally, Scalise's star has fallen considerably in the wake of news that in 2002 he addressed a white supremacist group founded by neo-Nazi David Duke. Many Democrats and some Republicans have called for him to step down as whip, but the House leadership and the Republican Caucus last week stood by him. If Scalise can put this scandal behind him — he has admitted his mistake, denounced all hate groups and expressed "regret" — he will be well-positioned to look out for Louisiana's interests, but he will be virtually alone in terms of having the kind of clout that can move the congressional needle.

  "Clout" was a central argument Landrieu raised in her failed bid for a fourth term, and her defeat does nothing to diminish the importance of having a delegation that can deliver — particularly for a state that depends as heavily as we do on federal largesse. Regardless of which party controls the House or Senate, clout matters. And no matter how loudly state politicians decry the federal government, they — and we — depend heavily on federal funding, no matter how you slice it.

  Using federal statistics, the personal finance website WalletHub recently took a basic measurement — how much each state pays in federal taxes versus what it gets back from the feds — and charted the results. By that metric, Louisiana is the fourth-ranking mendicant state in the union. We get back $3.35 for every dollar that our state's residents pay in federal taxes. Louisiana also ranks fifth when it comes to federal SNAP (food stamp) benefits. Even more glaring, federal funds make up 44.3 percent of Louisiana's annual budget, according to WalletHub. That means our congressional delegation spends a lot of time hat-in-hand in Washington, trying to convince their peers to send money to Louisiana.

  This doesn't comport with many Louisiana politicians' image of themselves, which often involves posturing against Washington and complaining about federal "interference." That was a favorite meme of Gov. Bobby Jindal in rejecting federal funds to expand the Affordable Care Act in Louisiana. All of that goes out the window, of course, when federal aid is clearly needed — as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures or during the BP oil disaster. At such times, the money can't get here fast enough.

  Now the question is: Who can get it for us going forward?


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