Democrats in Midterm Fight Seek Federal Help on Local Issues

Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014 12:54 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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Several Democratic senators seeking re-election appear less interested in President Obama's support in words on the campaign trail as they are in seeing action by his administration that could sway vital constituencies.

Anticipated close races in states like Alaska, Montana, Louisiana, and New Hampshire figure to be vital for Democrats to retain control of the Senate. The key to those elections might lie in the ability of incumbents to leverage the party's control of the government to deliver on the local projects or delay the job-stifling regulations that tend to sway voters in a non-presidential election.

Getting the Obama administration to play ball, however, isn't a guaranteed home run.

"They’re sometimes good and sometimes not good," Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu told The Washington Post.

Perhaps no senator is more dependent on the federal bureaucracy than Sen. Mark Begich, given the sheer size and remoteness of Alaska, which relies on government agencies to regulate almost every aspect of the local economy, from fisheries to oil production to national parks.

According to Begich, the Obama administration has cooperated in allowing snowmobiles on environmentally sensitive land and loosening environmental regulations on gasoline. Battles remain, however, over the state's push for more energy production — which runs counter to Obama's pro-environment politics — and over the Defense Department's proposed raising of prices at military commissaries, which could adversely impact the state’s 65,000 active-duty troops and 10,000 military retirees.

"You have to bang on their heads pretty hard," Begich said. "It takes a constant education."

Louisiana came out victorious last week when, at Landrieu's urging, the Department of Health and Human Services favored keeping open a call center that employs some 600 staffers who help people sign up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Landrieu, however, remains at odds with the administration over proposed protection of wetlands by the Environmental Protection Agency, which would hinder oil drilling off Louisiana's coast. Landrieu, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has teamed with Republicans to try and block the measure.

In New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen would like the administration to help expand access to Obamacare. To date, only one insurance company in the state has participated, eliminating 10 hospitals from its plan and leaving some areas without health facilities covered by the ACA.

No action has been taken, which Shaheen says is par for the course for this administration.

She told The Post that she eventually received funding to open a new federal prison in northern New Hampshire which was left closed and its proposed 300 employees out of work during a budget standoff. But it took five years of pushing to gain approval for a new job center for at-risk youths in Manchester.

"There were a lot of challenges working with the Department of Labor," Shaheen said.

In Montana, Sen. John Walsh is fighting a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management that would privatize land that could be used for hunting and fishing without adequately expanding access to public land elsewhere.

"In Montana, we have a proud outdoor heritage that brings jobs and billions of dollars into our state every year," Walsh said in a statement. "We value our natural resources and public lands, and preserving access for all Montanans and visitors from around the country. With tourism as one of our state's largest economic drivers, it is important to take responsibility to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund."

White House spokesman Eric Schultz assured the Post that "these types of decisions are ultimately made on [their] merits," but acknowledged that the process is complicated.

"Our legislative affairs staff work to keep lawmakers appropriately informed about agency-level decision-making," Schultz said. "But the underlying determinations are based on substantive criteria and decided by respective policy specialists."

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