A simmering feud between two Louisiana Republicans has boiled over — and the heated battle comes just seven months before they might face off over a redrawn congressional district.
At the moment, Reps. Charles Boustany — four-term congressman — and Jeff Landry — a freshman favorite of the tea party — are fighting over who should get credit for language in the budget resolution that could provide more money for dredging the nation’s ports.
They both agree in principle on the port issue — more money needs to be spent to deepen ports ahead of the 2014 expansion of the Panama Canal. But that is where agreement ends.
For Landry, who’s already won an endorsement from FreedomWorks but hasn’t formally entered the fall race, this is an example of a veteran congressman trying to steal credit. Landry’s office first put out a news release in late March touting budget report language he claims will ensure a boost in dredging money — adding that the provision is “something I got added to the budget.”
“He doesn’t understand hard work,” Landry told POLITICO. “He evidently can’t run on his record, that’s evident. To run on his record, that means he runs on zero. So think about this: This is a four-term, mister powerful, sits on Ways and Means guy who’s out here picking on some lowly little freshman. Come on, man. He can’t be that worried.”
He added: “Mr. Boustany evidently has got some issues.”
Boustany cried foul.
He said the contested provision, part of the report but not in the budget itself, “doesn’t solve the problem.” And he blames Landry for misleading people: “I think what the people of south Louisiana deserve is someone that they can trust, who will shoot straight and give factual information to our constituents but also someone that they can trust to actually come up with real solutions that solve the problem.”
The state’s unique election system pits all members against each other, regardless of party, in the November election. A candidate can win outright with more than 50 percent of the vote — otherwise, the top two vote-getters (again regardless of party) then move to a December runoff election.
Landry maintains that he’s focused on his current term, not the next: “We’re seven months out. I’m more concentrated on representing the people of the third congressional district and doing my job than I am worrying about some election.”
The language in question involves the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which has been spending far less each year than it takes in from an ad valorem tax on imports. Boustany is pushing his RAMP Act — a bill that would tie spending levels to yearly revenue.
The fight over who takes credit for a potential bump in dredging money has even devolved into finger-pointing over letters sent to the Budget Committee, typically a trivial affair where like-minded lawmakers request provisions favorable to their district or interest group.
On March 13, Landry sent a letter signed by 71 other House members, including some of the top Democrats involved in transportation issues. Boustany’s letter, which was sent a week earlier, included one other cosigner: Democrat Joe Courtney (Conn.).
Both issued news releases about their respective letters, and both took credit for the language being included.
To hear Landry tell it, Boustany was peeved that he didn’t get credit: “The Budget Committee takes our language, our recommendation. Charles flips out. That’s a classic symptom of what I call ‘establishment syndrome.’ See, Charles is recognizing he hasn’t done nothing for eight years, because that’s the easiest way to get re-elected — you do nothing.”
Boustany indeed wants credit for the language. “The budget language, while I’m pleased it’s in there, I think it’s most due to the efforts I’ve made over multiple years,” he said.
And here’s the kicker: All this fighting is over something they both agree won’t solve the problem.
“Does the language we were able to insert into the budget, does it solve the problem? Absolutely not. Is it a positive step, does it put us in a better position than we were before? Absolutely,” Landry said.
Boustany said he is “pleased that there’s some recognition that the problem exists now in the budget framework, but that language doesn’t solve the problem at all.”
Landry is dumbfounded by the entire situation: “He felt it was important enough to put out a press release for his recommendations to the Budget Committee with two signatures. So when we put out a press release, when we’ve accomplished the mission, he cries foul. I don’t understand.”
Boustany had over $1.2 million cash on hand at the end of 2011 — more than double Landry’s reelection pot of $534,000.