BATON ROUGE, La. — Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter on Monday left open the possibility of expanding Louisiana's Medicaid program to cover more of the working poor.
Vitter, a candidate for governor and ardent critic of the health overhaul championed by President Barack Obama, said he's not opposed to accepting the billions of federal dollars if Louisiana can improve the performance of its Medicaid program rather than expand "a pretty broken system."
"We need to improve and reform Medicaid, and I want to look at everything that could be brought to bear to do that. Now, could more federal resources help to do that? They could, if it's done right and if it's done in a constructive way," he told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
He said the expansion must not draw state resources away from other spending priorities like higher education, nor build "disincentives for able-bodied folks to work."
"We welcome the senator to the conversation about covering more than 240,000 uninsured Louisianians. It's a shame that he waited until after (the legislative) session to make his opinions known," state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, chairwoman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said in a written statement.
Vitter's willingness to consider Medicaid expansion stands in contrast to Gov. Bobby Jindal's staunch opposition to the idea. The state's current Republican governor has refused to consider any such proposals, and lawmakers recently killed several expansion bills.
Without naming Jindal, Vitter struck at several differences between himself and the governor.
Vitter said if he's elected governor next year, that's the last political job he'll ever seek. The remark hits at criticism that Jindal has been preoccupied with anticipation of a 2016 presidential bid.
"I'm not running for governor as a stepping stone," Vitter said.
He also back-handedly referenced Jindal's recent appearance on the popular, Louisiana-based hit TV show "Duck Dynasty," saying, "I'm not even running to be in a cameo appearance on 'Duck Dynasty,' as intensely jealous as I am of that."
On other issues, Vitter:
— Criticized the state budget as "held together in the last few years with sewing yarn and scotch tape." He said he'd prioritize a comprehensive review of the state's tax structure.
— Took no position yet on Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards, saying he wants to make sure the state keeps local control of curriculum. "I haven't finished doing my homework on that. I support the strong standards that Common Core represents. I'm looking at how we effectively maintain our autonomy."
— Said he supported the Jindal administration's privatization of the LSU hospital system, but added he expects tweaks will be needed to perfect the model.
— Suggested he would consider changes to the TOPS free college tuition program, because of concerns about its escalating costs. Jindal has opposed changes.
Other candidates in the governor's race include Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. Jindal is term-limited and can't run for re-election.