Continuing my earlier post, last night I went to a health care town hall meeting with Joe Sestak. The meeting was held at the Broad Street Ministry, a Center City church that feeds and shelters many of the city's homeless persons. I arrived about an hour and a half before the doors opened, and waited in line with a few hundred others. All the local news outfits were there; perhaps they were hoping to see some melee. There really wasn't any. There were a couple of Lyndon Larouche supporters there handing out their Obama/Hitler pamphlets (when they came by me, I just held the Health Care Reform NOW poster that I had volunteered to hold, up in their faces), but most of the discourse was civil.
The crowd was primarily pro-Reform. Here's a snippet to give you an idea of what the audience was like. (Apologies for the shaky footage--I did not bring my tripod--and the bad lighting.)
For the record, the second part of his answer was mandates. I will upload all the video footage I have later today or tomorrow. I shot the first ninety minutes of the meeting as that's all the tape I brought. The meeting went on much longer even after I left. The congressman said that he would stay until he answered all questions. I left after a little more than three hours of the meeting when only about a third of the original crowd remained. I did not ask a question myself as it was getting late, the church had no air conditioning (though they did offer free water), and most of the good questions had been asked (although in retrospect, I wish I had stood up and asked about how the deal with the pharmaceutical companies would affect the bill.
Joe Sestak is on the committee which is drafting H.R.3200, one of the health bills going through the House of Representatives. He brought a copy of the latest version of the bill with him and discussed the amendments he had added that were not yet online. (Despite some claims to the contrary) Sestak appears to have read and understood the entire bill. He was knowledgeable about details of both the bill and our current health care system, and much like a (gasp!) scientist, he only gave unequivocal answers to issues he could back up with solid studies and statistics. Over all, I was impressed with the presentation.
As I mentioned earlier, the crowd was mostly pro-Reform. Several left leaning groups including SEIU and Move On alerted their members to the event. There were no "teabaggers" bussed in to disrupt the event. There was a minority presence of objectors, but these were mostly invited there by the congressman himself. Sestak sent personal invitations to 123 constituents who had previously contacted him to express their dissatisfaction with the proposed bill. For the most part, they seemed to be familiar with the issue at hand (unlike some protesters we've seen on the news, they appeared to understand what it is that they are against) although their questions were spiced up with right wing talking points and disinformation. And naturally, Congressman Sestak was familiar with their objections and even knew a few of them by name.
The closest we had to the kind of disruptions I've been seeing on the news was this fellow who got frustrated when he wasn't called on quickly enough.
I have a couple things to say about this. First, while I commend him on all his volunteer service, that service does not disqualify him from being a right wing extremist. At best, it means that he doesn't perfectly fit the stereotype of a right wing extremist, but I would imagine that very few extremists (or members of any stereotyped group, really) do. My guess is that he probably is, but I could be mistaken, plus that's a rather subjective judgment anyway.
Second, his concern seems somewhat legitimate, albeit misguided (in my opinion). Clearly he's scared of any change. He wants to keep his current coverage, but is afraid that his employer will drop all plans except for the public option forcing him into an inferior, socialized system. My question for him is what's stopping his employer from dropping his plan for a less desirable private plan right now? That happens all the time. I know. I've seen it happen! Of course your employer will tell you how the new coverage plan is an "upgrade", but when you look at the fine print, the deductibles are larger and the coverage is less extensive. And if you're being treated for something under the old plan, that might just become a pre-existing condition under the new one. It sucks to be you!
The best critical question of the night came from a lady who asked about the health care advisory board (she asked two questions, but her second question was based on incorrect information about the bill). The health care advisory board decides what is covered under the public plan and what is the minimum required coverage for all insurance providers. Her objection was that all the members of the board are either directly or indirectly appointed by the POTUS. I'm guessing that her biggest fear is that she doesn't trust Obama, but as I listened to her ask the question, I imagined what it would be like to have George W. Bush or Dick Cheney select the board members. She is absolutely right that this is too much power in the hands of one person. It is most certainly a bad provision and should be opposed by everyone of all political stripes.
I will post the entire 90 minutes of footage I took on this blog once it has been fully compressed and uploaded. Keep your eye out for it.
Here's the full 90 minute video that I shot.