Ross meets Boustany — elbows fly

Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) met on Wednesday for what was supposed to be a low-key discussion on healthcare. But after news of the Ross-Boustany meeting leaked, a partisan battle erupted.

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Ross is a lead healthcare negotiator for the conservative Blue Dog Democrats and Boustany is a surgeon who was tapped by GOP leaders to deliver the party’s response to President Barack Obama’s address to Congress Wednesday evening.

House GOP officials sought to use the meeting between Boustany and Ross to support their claim that, unlike Democrats, Republicans are willing to work across party lines.

At press time, it was unclear whether Boustany was going to mention his meeting with Ross in the radio address. But it was clearly under consideration.

“I think you will hear him talking about working with Democrats, working with members from both sides of the aisle, to come up with common-sense solutions,” the aide said.
Boustany spokesman Rick Curtsinger said, “Boustany has had multiple talks with Ross, other Blue Dogs and other Democrats about various proposals that Republicans, Democrats and Independents support to lower the cost of healthcare. He will talk about reaching across the aisle and finding commonsense solutions to achieve real results for American families.”

A Republican aide also said that the two lawmakers had spent weeks having “very substantive” discussions, all toward the goal of formulating an alternative healthcare proposal centered around “substantive ideas that are possible, that would lower the cost of healthcare and that would be palatable to a wide swath of both Democrats and Republicans.”

But within an hour after The Hill reported on the meeting, Ross flatly denied through a spokesman that any such discussions had been ongoing, indicated that he was meeting with a colleague as a courtesy, and cast aside as false any claims that Ross was double-dealing with Republicans behind his leaders’s backs.

“Per Congressman Boustany’s request from several weeks ago, Congressman Ross did meet with him [Wednesday] afternoon, as Congressman Ross meets with any member who requests to do so,” Ross’s spokesman Brad Howard said in an e-mail.

“[Wednesday’s] meeting was the first and only meeting between the two members and no future meetings are scheduled,” Howard added. “There are no secret meetings about a possible healthcare alternative proposal with Republicans and Congressman Ross is not working to create an alternative healthcare proposal. Any reports to the contrary are flat-out wrong.”

Behind the scenes, Democrats were furious -- not at Ross but at Republicans for what they saw as a blatant set up.

“This appears to be a last-minute political stunt so that the Republicans can claim they are having ‘bipartisan talks’ with Democrats,” an aide to a prominent Blue Dog Democrat said. “If Republicans were serious about being a constructive part of the process, they should have tried working with Democrats months ago.”

Ross did rub some Democrats the wrong way this week by disavowing any legislation with a public option. Ross’s remarks came a month after negotiating an agreement with Democratic leaders on a public option bill that subsequently passed the Energy and Commerce Committee.