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« Congressional Black C… | Back to News List | White house retracts … »

Lawmakers confront more anger from their constituents during town-hall meetings for healthcare reform

13 08 09 - 12:27

For Lawmakers, Health-Plan Anger Keeps Coming
By DAVID STOUT - The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers ran into fresh anger and skepticism on Wednesday as they fielded questions from constituents worried about changes in the health care system, and about a lot of other things having to do with government.

The queries hurled at legislators from the Atlantic Seaboard to the nation’s midsection reflected deep-seated fears, a general suspicion of government and, in some cases, a lack of knowledge on the part of the questioners.

“Why does the government want to rush into this bill when many don’t want it?” Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, was asked at a “town meeting” in Hagerstown. “Why are you rushing this?”

Calmly, the senator replied in a snippet shown on CNN, “We’ve got to take as much time as we need to get it right.” And he added, “The status quo is unacceptable.”

The senator was too polite (or intent on survival) to correct his questioner by pointing out that there is not one bill yet, but rather several proposals working their way through five committees in both houses of Congress, and that to talk of “the government” as a single entity makes no sense, at least in this context, because of the divisions between Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, Capitol Hill and the White House.

Mr. Cardin had to raise his voice slightly to speak over shouts from the audience. "I’m not going to vote for any bill that adds to the national debt," he said at one point.

As for any implication that there is a “rush” to enact health-care legislation, President Obama may have been responsible for that, at least in part, by calling for final action before the House and Senate adjourned for August. And fixing health care, whose costs have been soaring, has been talked about for years, most notably in the failed attempt to enact sweeping changes early in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Many hundreds of miles away on Wednesday, in Iowa, Senator Charles E. Grassley, perhaps the state’s most popular Republican, found it necessary to tell an audience at the Winterset Public Library that he is against any plan that “determines when you’re going to pull the plug on grandma,” against any plan that would provide government-funded care to people in the country illegally, and against end-of-life counseling when death is near.

Mr. Grassley was apparently reacting to groundless assertions that health-care legislation would call for “death panels” to determine who lives and dies (the AARP, the lobby for older Americans, calls such charges “lies”), and provide health coverage to illegal immigrants when none of the major proposals before Congress would do so.

“What we stand for is that the government is not going to take over our health-care system,” Mr. Grassley said, to cheers and applause. “What we stand for is to make sure that no bureaucrat gets between the doctor and the patient.”

Were he more professorial and condescending, Mr. Grassley might have pointed out that government already has a fairly big role in health care, as in Medicare, Medicaid and, to an extent, Social Security.

But the senator did not. In 2004, he proudly said that his constituents “don’t feel like Washington has gone to my head,” according to The Almanac of American Politics. He surely understands that older people, who worry almost reflexively about any hints at changes in Medicare or Social Security, vote in big numbers — whatever their gaps in knowledge and information — and that their ranks are growing.

Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat from Pennsylvania, endured another day of hostile, sometimes fact-defying questions at a town meeting in State College, Pa., The Associated Press reported.

“What’s up with all this?” one questioner said. “This is socialism.” Cheered on by some in the audience, the questioner persisted. “What about the money and speed of all this? If this is for the people, what’s the big hurry?”

The senator replied, “We’re slowing down. We’re taking our time to do it right.” (Mr. Specter could have pointed out that, whatever its virtues, the Senate is not designed for speed.)

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, got an earful on Tuesday, being greeted by jeers at a health care session in her home state. “I don’t understand this rudeness,” she said at one point. “I honestly don’t get it.”

By Wednesday morning, Ms. McCaskill apparently did. “These people are frustrated, and they don’t trust government,” she said in an interview on MSNBC.

At the White House, President Obama’s chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, was asked again on Wednesday if, perhaps, the administration had not done a good enough job explaining and selling the proposed health care overhaul. Mr. Gibbs suggested that the media bore some of the blame, for doing too many “X said this, Y said this” stories, without rooting out, and pointing out, unambiguous falsehoods.

But Jessica Yellin, CNN’s national political correspondent, commenting on Senator Cardin’s town meeting in Hagerstown, Md., pointed out what news people already know: when journalists cite outright misstatements by public officials, the American people “don’t seem to trust us.”




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