By Mark Felsenthal
NEW ORLEANS Nov 8 A trip by President Barack
Obama to the Port of New Orleans on Friday was an opportunity
for him to focus on the economy and divert attention from the
troubled launch of his signature healthcare insurance program.
Instead, the visit turned into a spat over Obamacare with
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a possible Republican
Jindal met Air Force One when it landed and attended Obama's
speech to a crowd of about 650 people on a wharf on the
Obama first delivered a pitch for the creation of jobs by
fixing roads, dredging ports and modernizing the U.S. air
traffic control system.
Then he took a veiled jab at Jindal for failing to support a
key plank of the healthcare law.
Louisiana is one of 24 states that has refused federal funds
to expand Medicaid to more low-income people, money that Obama
said would help 265,000 people in the state gain access to
"Even if you don't support the overall plan, let's at least
go ahead and make sure that the folks who don't have health
insurance right now and can get it through an expanded Medicaid,
let's make sure we do that," Obama said.
That opened the door for Jindal to accuse Obama of trying to
"bully" the state.
"We will not allow President Obama to bully Louisiana into
accepting an expansion of Obamacare," Jindal said in a
statement, saying the expansion would cost the state too much.
"The dysfunction of the website and the president's broken
promises on being able to keep your health plan are just the tip
of the iceberg in regards to the problems with this law," Jindal
Obama had repeatedly promised that Americans could keep
their plans if they wanted, oversimplifying a clause in the law
allowing some policies to be exempted.
In his speech, he repeated pledges to fix the malfunctioning
Healthcare.gov website that is the main portal for enrolling in
Obama's visit to New Orleans followed a television interview
aired on Thursday, in which he apologized to Americans who were
dropped by their health plans because of changes mandated by the
Affordable Care Act.
The rest of his speech was a plea to Congress to focus on
investing in infrastructure projects as it tries to work out a
budget deal by a January deadline.
He urged Congress to include an infrastructure spending plan
in a budget deal.
"I know if there's one thing that members of Congress from
both parties want, it's smart infrastructure projects that
create good jobs in their districts," he said.
He spoke after the U.S. government reported that employers
added 204,000 jobs in October despite a 16-day government
shutdown, although the jobless rate ticked up to 7.3 percent.
Despite the surprisingly strong report, the White House
estimated that there would have been 120,000 more jobs created
in the month had it not been for the government shutdown.
"There is no question that the shutdown harmed our jobs
market. The unemployment rate still ticked up," Obama said.
After his speech, Obama flew to Miami, Florida and was to
speak at two fundraisers for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign
Committee, and another for the Democratic National Committee.
Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who faces a
tough re-election race next year, traveled with Obama from
Washington, but did not attend his event in New Orleans.
Obama said she was busy traveling within the state and a
spokesman for Landrieu explained she was attending an event
"that had been months in the making" in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Landrieu introduced legislation this week that would allow
Americans to keep their existing health insurance plans, if they
so choose, as Obama had promised.