Asked this week about a contentious 2013 vote on an aid package after Superstorm Sandy, U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Charles Boustany didn't exactly say he told us so.
Well, maybe he did.
Boustany, whose southwest Louisiana district has been hit hard by this month's flooding, was not only a "yes" vote for the full $50 billion package to help residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut recover from the devastation; he was one of the "whips" charged with lining up votes from his fellow Republicans.
But fully half the state's House delegation was in the "no" camp, including one of Boustany's GOP rivals for the Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, John Fleming of Minden.
Those votes are now back under the spotlight as the delegation prepares to seek a similar package, and may have to fend off accusations that its members didn't help out when their colleagues' constituents were the ones in need. And with the Louisiana flood and its aftermath likely to remain very much in the news through the fall, the difference between Boustany's and Fleming's approaches offers one of the clearest philosophical distinctions to date between the only two candidates in the sprawling 24-candidate Senate field who currently serve in Congress.
At a news conference Wednesday, Boustany, said his support for the full Sandy bill was a "no-brainer."
"Having fought those fights with hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike, I knew what those fights were like. My colleagues were not there during that time, and I went to them before and said if you vote against this … you're basically signaling hypocrisy. Because it's not a matter of if we're going to have another event, it's only a matter of when."
He also noted that the other Louisiana members who'd been in Congress when megastorms Katrina and Rita struck Louisiana in 2005 — and who had to overcome fierce skepticism over the cost of providing relief among lawmakers from other parts of the country — had taken a similar approach. That group, he pointed out, included both senators at the time, Democrat Mary Landrieu and Republican David Vitter, while the "no" votes all came from representatives who were first elected after Katrina and Rita.
Fleming, along with Steve Scalise, now the House majority whip, and Bill Cassidy, now a U.S. Senator, each supported a smaller $17 billion appropriation. But they balked at the larger bill that came out of the Senate, which they said was larded up with spending that had little do to with recovery.
Fleming, a leader of the Freedom Caucus made up of the House's most uncompromisingly conservative members, continues to defend his vote against the aid package, which ultimately passed. He said he'll always back emergency help without worrying about budget offsets, and will absolutely support an aid package for Louisiana. But he also suggested he'd continue to apply the same litmus test as he did after Sandy.
"I think we should spend whatever we need to spend to help the people of Louisiana. We just shouldn't use it as kind of an opportunity for people to waste the taxpayer money," he said in a recent interview. "For us to call something an emergency that we know good and well is going to be an expenditure is just dishonest and irresponsible. If somebody's going to get a bridge in Missouri because of this, I'd say wait a second, we need to hold up here."
But what if you need to fund the bridge in Missouri to land the congressman from Missouri's vote?
"Well, that's where principle comes in," Fleming said.
Boustany, not surprisingly, offered a different take.
"That's always a convenient excuse," he said of complaints that these bills tend to grow exponentially. "We don't live in the world of perfect. We live in the world of what can be put together to get the votes to pass. And you have to make a decision on balance whether that's a good vote or a bad vote. You need legislators who can get results, who know how to legislate."