Most of the media hype over President Obama's health care address to Congress last night has centered on Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's (SC) startling outburst of heckling. But the Wilson fixation has drawn attention from an equally puzzling move: the choice of Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany to deliver the GOP's rebuttal to Obama's speech.
A little-known and staunchly conservative Congressman, Rep. Boustany's main involvement on health care policy has been his reputation as a key ally of the health industry. As the watchdog group Public Campaign documented before the speech, Boustany has raked in $1.25 million from health and insurance interests since being elected in 2004.
Nearly 20 percent of his political fundraising has come from these interests.
Rep. Boustany -- who paid a company $18,250 in the 1990s to receive an English Title, including rights to be called "Lord Boustany" (it turned out to be a fraud) -- is also a doctor. It's unclear how much this added to his credibility, however. As Politico reports, Boustany was the target of three medical malpractice suits, which may shape his views on limiting tort liability.
But Rep. Boustany was also a co-sponsor of legislation that included provisions for end-of-life care, or the so-called "death panels" that helped inflame opponents of the Democratic health bill.
At a moment when some in the GOP are trying to mainstream the party's message and appeal, the choice of Boustany also sends a mixed signal. For example, in July 2009 Firedoglake caught Boustany giving credence to the "birther" movement that questions President Obama's right to hold office. You can hear his views at the :27 mark in this video:
Here's a transcript of what Rep. Boustany says when asked about the birther controversy:
BOUSTANY: Well, it's certainly being looked at.
STARK: What do you personally believe, I mean -- do you think there's a question here?
BOUSTANY: I think there are questions, we'll have to see.
Rep. Boustany later had second thoughts, telling local radio station KPEL that he believes Obama is a U.S. citizen.
(H/T Daily Kingfish)