Just A Minute
The Debate Over Health Care Reform Comes Home
By Ronald H. Bailey
I didn’t see anyone packing a gun. There were no shouted disruptions. No one invoked the phony specter of the nonexistent “death panels” that supposedly threaten Grandma.
Last week two of our elected federal representatives–Congressman Scott Murphy and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand–came to Delaware County to meet with constituents and hear their concerns. The discussions were remarkably civil.
On Tuesday morning, Murphy–the winner by a few hundred votes in a hotly contested special election to succeed Gillibrand in the 20th CD seat last March–showed up at the Meridale Deli and Grocery in the heart of Meridale. This is my neighborhood store, and, in fact, the only such establishment in the Town of Meredith.
The occasion was not one of those raucous town hall meetings that have bedeviled members of Congress these past few weeks. It was instead a Congress-on-Your-Corner event of the kind pioneered by Murphy’s predecessor, Kirsten Gillibrand.
These events allow constituents to get help with Social Security and other federal programs and to question their elected representative up close and personal. Questions for Murphy ranged over a number of issues, from the depressed price of milk paid dairy farmers to the possibility that cell phone towers might emit unhealthy radiation.
But the main concern among the three dozen or so local folks in attendance was health care reform. Murphy made clear that he favored the public option advocated by President Obama–a government-run program that would compete with private insurers and help hold down costs.
The discussion was spirited but polite. One woman cited problems she had experienced in dealing with Medicare. A man expressed distrust of any government program, including Social Security. Others spoke up for the government’s role, praising the public option or even a single-payer system such as that in Canada in which the government provides medical insurance for everyone.
After about 45 minutes in Meridale, Congressman Murphy moved on to the County Fair in Walton and later to another Congress-on-Your-Corner session in the village of Franklin without incident. He has promised to visit every town in his district during his foreshortened term in office. He will be up for reelection next year.
Senator Gillibrand visited the County Fair on Saturday and then attended a $25-a-person reception at Danny’s Restaurant in Walton to benefit Democratic candidates in this fall’s town elections. (Full disclosure: I am a Democratic town chair and did some volunteer writing for her nearly four years ago at the beginning of her first congressional campaign.)
Few of the 40-some people at the reception had seen Gillibrand since Governor David Paterson appointed her to Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat. Paterson has made many miscues since he assumed office, but selecting Gillibrand was a smart move. She is bright, a mainstream moderate and a formidable enough campaigner that strong potential challengers such as Steve Israel and Carolyn Maloney–both popular members of Congress–have opted not to go against her in a Democratic primary next year.
I was pleased to hear her position on health care reform. She is not only strongly in favor of the public option but spells out how it should be achieved. She advocates “Medicare for all.” People of any age could buy into Medicare for a certain percentage of their family earnings. The mechanism is already in place. And as a happy beneficiary of current Medicare, I consider it a highly successful program.
The meteoric rise and political evolution of Gillibrand has been fascinating to watch. I remember that a colleague and I talked to Gillibrand about single payer health care at the very beginning of her campaign for Congress. She was worried about what would happen to the health insurance industry. I heard no such concerns on Saturday.
The only naysayer at the reception was a woman I didn’t recognize. She asked a series of questions about the financial state of Medicare and Social Security–fair game, to be sure, but she had a critical, even rude, edge. At the end she was muttering about “taxing the rich.”
I suspected she might be a tea-bagger plant. In fact, she is a registered Conservative Party member from Sidney, married to a registered Republican. I appreciate her $25 donation to the County Democratic Committee and hope she enjoyed the good food and our congeniality.