Last night I went to Congressman Joe Cao's town hall event in Westwego.
It was pretty uncomfortable.
Nobody flew off the handle and there were no gun shows. It certainly wasn't the worst of the worst. The small auditorium was probably 75% against. He took maybe ten questions but only one from someone in support of healthcare reform.
I'd never heard Congressman Cao talk off-the-cuff for such a long period of time. His explanations of the healthcare reform proposals were kind of disjointed. I'm not sure how much of that is related to his accent and how much of it is related to his lack of confidence about his knowledge about what's actually included in the HELP bill.
For instance, he then went on for awhile about how he was worried that illegal immigrants might be exempt from the individual mandate, which of course is a ridiculous argument because if you're worried about benefits going to undocumented workers, you certainly wouldn't want them in the mandate system, which would make them eligible for subsidies, the insurance exchange, or the public option.
House Bill: "No Federal Payment for Undocumented Aliens." According to America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, Page 143, Line 3, Section 246: "No Federal Payment for Undocumented Aliens. Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." [America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, accessed 7/22/09
Favorite question from audience member:
"I guess I understand that we need some kind of reform. But why does it have to be a bill."
Cao cracked a nice smile at that one. Because that's how laws are made, my dear.
A high percentage audience questions were phrased in terms of how wrong it is that "lazy" people would get health insurance on the backs of "hard-working" people.
One of the more disappointing moments came when a woman went on a long and inarticulate rant about how because the Obama administration is answering emails with questions about healthcare reform, their should be some sort of investigation. This is the latest Fox News fear-smear. Cao should have knocked it down but instead said he'd have to look into the woman's claims.
Cao's office also collects email addresses and answers questions via email.
After the event, I walked up to the stage to ask the Congressman if he was still "leaning" toward supporting the bill. If he said yes, I was going to thank him.
But instead he just hedged a whole bunch. He backed off. He wouldn't say he was leaning toward it.
At some point or another he's going to have to say what he believes. He's going to have to vote on this at some point very soon. We're all going to know about it.
So he might as well just come out now and say what it is he's going to do for his constituents on this.
Make a decision and live with the consequences.
After the event I stayed around for a little while and discussed my thoughts on the bill with some of the anti-reform folks that were there. It's amazing how people react when you start telling them the facts. When you explain that we have the highest costs in the world and the 37th best outcomes, when you explain how taxes already pay for people's healthcare except only at its most expensive point - the ER, when you inject a little reality into things... well, it just confounds people.
It made me feel bad. We're so far apart on what the basic facts are.
People are being taken advantage and they're being lied to. It's a shame.