Stephanie Grace: In these contentious times, GOMESA a rare bipartisan priority
When Bill Cassidy challenged longtime U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014, one of her main arguments was that, despite her Democratic affiliation, she was the one who had a record of looking out for Louisiana's interests in Washington.
Exhibit A was her authorship of the landmark Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which sends a share of federal royalties from offshore drilling to Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama.
Cassidy's contention was that he could be a reliable Republican on national issues while filling Landrieu's shoes as a local advocate. And now, it seems, he gets to point to GOMESA as an example as well.
President Donald Trump's first budget last year proposed basically undoing the hard-won law even before Louisiana started to see much in the way of proceeds. Previously, former President Barack Obama had proposed the same cut, despite the fact that he badly wanted to see Landrieu re-elected.
But not this year.
Trump's new budget leaves GOMESA alone, the apparent result of an intensive lobbying and education effort by members of Louisiana's mostly Republican Congressional delegation. In explaining the administration's newfound sympathy, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke cited an eye-opening site visit late last year hosted by Cassidy.
Also heavily involved was U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, who headed the state's coastal restoration efforts under former Gov. Bobby Jindal before he ran for Congress. Graves, R-Baton Rouge, wrote to the administration to contend that keeping GOMESA intact would save the federal government money by funding projects that reduce the state's vulnerability to hurricanes.
"With hurricane intensity like we saw in 2017, we cannot afford to cut these funds," he wrote. Graves and other members of the Louisiana delegation escorted Zinke on his tour, and said later that "we showed him on the ground where some of these dollars are being invested."
Louisiana gets the largest share of the GOMESA proceeds and has committed to using most of the money for coastal restoration. GOMESA revenues represent a large portion of funding for projects in the state's 50-year coastal master plan.
This isn't the first successful effort to bolster GOMESA in recent months. Cassidy was able to get language into the recent tax overhaul that raises the cap on proceeds to the state and could send an extra $100 million in Louisiana's direction in upcoming years.
That was one sign that GOMESA is becoming something like settled law, despite suggestions in recent budgets by administrations from both parties that it remains on the table.
Of course, it's Congress, not any president of any party, that has the power to reverse course, and presidentially proposed budgets are best understood as wish lists rather than policy proposals bound for serious consideration. And the fact that only four states benefit means that representatives from the other 46 have reason to support spreading the money around.
Still, the change sends a signal that such a move wouldn't be an administration priority, just as the serious money is starting to flow.
It helps to have a delegation that's unified in its efforts to preserve the program.
It also helps that this is one issue that unites rather than divides, that it appeals to advocates for offshore drilling as well as those focused on the environment, and that it's something that a Republican like Cassidy can support just as strongly as his vanquished Democratic opponent did.
How often does that happen in these contentious times?
Email Stephanie Grace at firstname.lastname@example.org.