The crowd of about 400 who packed the Lincoln Center on Wednesday night as Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers held a town hall meeting at times resembled the partisan Congress the Spokane Republican will return to next month.
“This debate is not that different from what you might hear on the House floor from day to day,” McMorris Rodgers said, closing an hour of impassioned questions from an audience focused on President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform legislation.
McMorris Rodgers, the third-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, offered a simple answer.
“As well-intended as the president’s health care law was, it’s one that I think needs to be repealed,” McMorris Rodgers said, in one of several vows throughout the meeting to stall or halt “Obamacare.” Her promises provoked an evenly divided chorus of cheers and boos from the crowd.
McMorris Rodgers said she supported some portions of the legislation. Congress “needed to take action related to those who have pre-existing conditions” and allow workers to move their insurance from one employer to another, she said. But she also said the law grants too much authority to the federal government and stifles innovation in the private sector by instituting new taxes on medical equipment suppliers.
Roy Eickmeyer, a retired veteran, drew loud vocal opposition by suggesting those in favor of government-supported health care should leave the country. But his voice broke with emotion when discussing the stakes of the debate.
“You’ve got to look at 20,000 pages of regulations and see what that’s going to do to a country that’s over-regulated anyway,” Eickmeyer said.
One attendee asked McMorris Rodgers about her own health care plans after it was revealed that a Republican-backed amendment in the health care law kicked Congress members and their staffs off of federal employee health insurance, pushing them to enroll in the subsidized exchanges the law creates.
“My husband and I have decided that we’re going to look elsewhere,” McMorris Rodgers said.
Roger Bosky, another retiree, said he was unimpressed with the congresswoman’s promises. Bosky asked her about the proposal to alter the way Social Security benefits are paid out by considering consumer choice. The so-called “chained consumer price index” has drawn criticism from political groups representing senior citizens because it will slow the rate at which benefits increase with inflation.
“I realize that it was proposed by the president,” Bosky said after an answer from McMorris Rodgers that was noncommittal about what changes needed to be made to keep Social Security solvent. “It’s the problem in Congress today, people not meeting to solve anything.”
A guide provided to Republican House members on how to handle issues during the August recess – with a preface from McMorris Rodgers, who is the Republican Conference chairwoman – called for the party to remain “on the offense” when it came to issues like health care, immigration and the upcoming federal budget negotiations. She appeared to follow those instructions closely Wednesday night, as simmering emotions occasionally led supporters and opponents alike to shout over her voice as she answered about a dozen questions. Three separate attendees were forced to leave by security for causing disturbances during the meeting.
McMorris Rodgers recognized the split in the room, especially over health care, and she anticipates seeing the same passion when she returns to Washington.
“When we go back in the fall, I’m sure this is going to be a big debate as we move forward with health care,” she said.