"Ready for dinner"
In August 2009, at the height of the healthcare debate and in the midst of the Tea Party’s rise to prominence, Democratic lawmakers were bombarded by angry Obamacare opponents when they returned home to their districts and attended town halls with their constituents. Flash forward to today: August is getting similarly heated amid threats by Tea Party Republicans to force a government shutdown over funding for the law. But this time, it’s Republicans who are the targets — and they’re feeling it from both sides of the debate.
Sens. Mike Lee, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are spearheading an effort to block a continuing resolution that would extend funding for the federal government beyond September, if that resolution contains funding for Obamacare. This could eventually result in a government shutdown, since Democrats in the Senate and the president will not allow a funding measure to be implemented without healthcare funding. Republicans have been split on the issue, with many acknowledging that the strategy is not likely to be successful — and probably won’t defund Obamacare anyway.
In the last week, this argument has been taken to the local level, with multiple reports of House Republicans taking flak at town hall meetings for their various positions on the law.
It began with Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from North Carolina who has sponsored at least a dozen bills that would repeal Obamacare in one way or another. But that wasn’t enough for conservatives in his district. A Tea Party group posted a video in which a town hall attendee asks if Pittenger will vote against Obamacare funding. Pittenger replies, “No.” The attendees were not pleased.
“While I support efforts to defund Obamacare,” his office said in a subsequent statement, the Washington Post reports, ”the political reality is that goal is not currently achievable. Senator Harry Reid would never let it pass the Senate, and President Obama would never sign it into law.”
Pittenger was just the beginning. According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, Nebraska Republican Jeff Fortenberry on Monday argued that there would be “very significant consequences” to a shutdown, and “there has to be a better way.” An audience member replied, “We elected Republicans to fight for more conservative policies.”
In Oklahoma, Rep. Tom Cole faced an angry constituent who paid in cash for a procedure for her son, “the price I paid for the liberty of my children,” she said, according to BuzzFeed. “Even if you do not believe in your heart, number one, that it will pass, or number two, it’s appropriate. You need to represent us.”
Greg Sargent flags that Patrick McHenry, another North Carolina Republican, got an earful from Obamacare supporter Skip Edwards, 63, who took McHenry to task for repeatedly casting votes to defund or repeal the law, which Edwards believes is better than nothing. As the Asheville Citizen-Times reports:
Edwards and his wife, both 63, had health insurance until he lost his job during the recession and the East Asheville couple found themselves in financial trouble despite staying relatively healthy.
Both had pre-existing conditions and were denied insurance, making them eligible for a state plan called Inclusive Health.
“It cost us $1,300 bucks a month — extremely expensive,” Edwards said. “It taps us out every month. But at our age and health, we’ve got to have it.”
And, as ThinkProgress pointed out, Rep. Aaron Schock responded to a remark by an Illinois constituent that Schock risks “alienating the people who brought you to power in 2010, the conservative voters who caused that landslide are going to react unless you take a strong principled position on this.” Schock said that he thinks Obamacare is “supremely flawed,” but also opposes shutting down the government.
“How many weeks would you go without paying Social Security, and how many weeks would you go without paying the troops?” Schock asked. “And having a young lady walk into my office, whose husband is over in Afghanistan, who can’t pay her mortgage because I’m shutting the government down because I don’t like a health care law? … I’m just suggesting that when you get into a fight, politically, you gotta make sure you’re willing to kill the hostage you got. And I am not convinced yet that that’s a hostage that we should take headed into this fight.”
A different attendee pushed Schock on what the Republicans would replace Obamacare with, should they successfully repeal it after 40 failed attempts. “You have nothing to replace it with,” the constituent declared. “We have a series of replacement bills,” Schock replied, though would not go into specifics: “Well, I don’t want to digress into another question, but I’ll be happy to talk to you afterwards.”
Here’s the video. Skip to the 7-minute mark:
Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.More Jillian Rayfield.