God, I’ve got a headache. I just got back from the Townhall Meeting with Rush Holt, and as promised I’ve started drinking. A lot. I need to. And maybe you will too if these things go through.
The meeting was scheduled to start at 7pm, so like a good anal-retentive type I got there at 4:30…and I was about the 20th person on line.
Which was cool because it meant that I was lined up in the shade…and I got to see all the interesting folks as they were arriving
pretty soon there was a decent sized crowd, and I have to say everyone was in a pretty good mood
While I didn’t see any bussed in type folks, one thing that was pretty obvious was that you could instantly tell where someone stood on the plan simply by looking at their sign. You didn’t have to read the sign, no, just look at it, because without exception if the sign was hand-written, then the message was anti-Obamacare; if the message was printed then it was pro-Obamacare. Like I said, basically with out exception. Make of that what you will.
Part of the fun were all the fringe groups that were there. My old favorites the LaRouche nutjobs were making the rounds, handing out their informational tracts
(the back page of which very helpfully features a picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache)
and some folks were handing out stuff touting just how wonderful our Single Payer future would be. Oh joy. There was also Mike Halfacre, currently Mayor of Fair Haven, who plans to run against Holt next Fall working the crowd, and everyone was in a reasonably good mood.
Like I said, I got their fairly early, and it was a good thing I did, because soon the police came out and said that they would only allow the first 238 people on line into the meeting. There were certainly more folks than that there; how many is hard for me to say, as the line stretched around out of sight around the building (you can see some outside shots here; looks like there were lots of folks who didn’t get in). As we filed in we were asked to sign in and given cards that we could write questions on. Some folks grumbled but I have to say I had no problem with this, as it would prevent to some extent the rambling shouted questions. It also allowed Rush to say that he was going to give people who lived in the 12th District priority in questioning him, which seemed reasonable to me.
One aspect that was poorly organized was the limiting of the crowd. I have no problem with them only allowing in as many people as could sit in the stands, but that process only took 15 minutes, so by 6:15 we were all there and seated…and Rush wasn’t showing up until 7, which gave far too much time for arguments and shouting matches to develop in the growing-restless crowd. And they did. It was frankly very poor planning on their part.
Finally Rush came in and sat down whilst Bishop Riley of the NJ Lutheran Synod was the warm-up act. Not a brilliant idea, as he quickly set off a chorus of boos and catcalls by by decrying how horrible it was that “the first question people are asked in the emergency room is what is your insurance company.” Even he sensed that maybe he wasn’t helping things so he quickly sat down and Rush got up and gave a boilerplate introductory spiel about how he’s there to assist us in any way he can, etc, contact him for this or that (in fact when we went to DC a few years ago his office was very helpful in getting us a tour of Congress), all those little constituent service things that a Representative should say and be good at, and in fact Holt is good at those things.
One thing he’s not good at is public speaking. He comes across as an academic policy wonk, which is not surprising because that’s exactly what he is. And in this environment and debate that works very much against him, because he really seems…out of touch with how business and life for the average person works. Again, as the only jobs he’s ever held have been either academic or governmental, this is not a surprise.
He started off with a general statement explaining why this health care reform was being done and what it contained (I’ll try not to bore you with too many details from my scribbled notes). His basic premise is that for the “majority of Americans the system is broken” and what he wants is to “impose elevated national standards” on insurance companies and eliminate things like lifetime caps on coverage and co-pays and to “require insurance companies to spend 85% of the premiums they receive on health care.”
He feels that people are not well served by their insurance companies now and he believes that we will be better served by the government forcing companies to “compete in an insurance store” (This seemed to be his answer to all of our problems; he said it so often that it got to be a running joke in the group of folks I happened to be sitting with) where consumers can choose amongst different options, with one of those options being a government run plan that would be a paragon of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. The idea never occurred to him that the government “forcing” companies to compete is like them “forcing” us to be friends, and that a system where the Government is one of the “competitors” is no competitive system at all: how can you possibly compete against the referee? Invariably the government will be the only player left.
The crowd was grumbling on and off through out all of this (and I would say the crowd seemed to me split probably 60/40 against the plan) but a lot of us had a good laugh when he said that “Medicare is successful and Medicare is solvent.”
His basic theme is that this bill will be funded by all these savings that will be realized by effectively putting everyone on Medicare.
Much like all those jobs that have been “created or saved” by the stimulus package (when one discounts the rising unemployment, of course).
Once he started going through the questions on the cards the crowd noise, especially from a few individuals who were just outright constantly obnoxious, started getting louder, and he got a little more ruffled and off came his jacket.
His answers were fairly consistent, and always contained one or more of the following: “Medicare savings will pay for it”, “insurance store”, or, my personal favorite, “maybe”, which was the answer always given when the question was the type that you or I would answer “yes” or “no” to, although at one point he did say “it remains to be seen how much savings there will be.” My guess is the savings will be somewhere between “zero” and “none”, but your mileage may vary.
One of the best joke lines of the night was when he answered a question about Medicare fraud by saying that it really doesn’t exist because “people are required to report Medicare fraud” and since “very little fraud is reported” the problem is a “very small percentage.” I guess since very few people turn themselves in to the police for using their cell phones or texting while driving that indicates that those things don’t go on, either. Head, sand.
He’s proud that he “worked on Cap and Trade extensively, and felt it didn’t go far enough” and that it was a “mystery” to him why the Republicans weren’t “at the table to make the Health Bill better.” Things got a little testy when he made a comment about “some of the noisemakers in the crowd” to which they replied “we’re CONSTITUENTS!”
He was asked “why are we moving so fast” to which he replied that “the country won’t recover if we are saddled with these health care costs; time is of the essence; it’s not happening fast enough.” Not having a PhD in physics I am unable to grasp the concept of how spending trillions and creating a massive new bureaucracy “unsaddles” those costs, obviously. But since he seems to think that this will cost “only 1 trillion”, which I guess is chump change by his standards, then it’s all good.
There was a rather revealing moment in a subsequent question along these lines, which asked “why are you forcing this plan on us?” and the response from the more vocal supporters of the plan was “because we won the election!” which I thought was a particularly nice gesture from the “building bridges and community” crowd.
Afterwards most folks wandered out, some stopped to wiggle betwixt the police to have a word or two with him. No one’s mind was changed, blood pressures were elevated, but I will give him credit for at least facing his constituents.