By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Congresswoman Diana DeGette told her constituents Thursday that she can’t see health care reform legislation passing out of the House without some element of a public option.
“I think that a bill fairly similar to the one we passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee will probably be the bill in the House, and I can guarantee you that a bill will not pass out of the House without a public option or a robust alternative,” the chief deputy whip said to a room full of both “boos” and cheers.
Her comments came during a relatively mild town hall meeting with constituents at National Jewish Health. The fits and tantrums portrayed by the cable news networks were nowhere to be found Thursday. While the Democratic process was alive and well — complete with spirited debates between ordinary citizens — there were no shouts of “Nazism” or “Socialism” at this town hall meeting, which was attended by about 260 — evenly split between supporters and opponents of the reform proposal.
DeGette, D-Denver, attributes the composure to citizens becoming more informed on the issues.
“Americans are beginning to educate themselves more on the bill; I actually think these discussions are more and more productive,” she told the Denver Daily News following the town hall meeting. “There are still more people who, for whatever reason, choose not to understand how the bill is drafted and what it does, but I thought this was an excellent conversation and I thought people asked a lot of good questions.”
Optimism on DeGette’s part
While the congresswoman believes an element of public option will be included in any bill to emerge from the House, she is optimistic that the public option debate will not be the issue to kill health care reform legislation.
“The fact that I was able to get it out of committee with a robust public option gives me hope because we have the most diverse committee in the House of Representatives … we have Blue Dogs, we have liberals, we have a lot of people in between — the fact that we were able to come to a consensus, I think we’ll be able to do that in the House,” said DeGette, who is vice-chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
She was instrumental in brokering a compromise that pushed the 1,000-page health reform legislation out of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Unlike some Democrats who have faltered on the public option proposal, DeGette Thursday remained committed to that aspect of reform.
“I haven’t seen anything to date that would provide the kind of competition that a public option would give us in the exchange,” she told constituents. “But what I hear is happening is people are becoming focused around one particular idea and they’re beginning to polarize this way or that way.”
“I believe that it would be foolish of us to pass comprehensive national health care reform if we didn’t give some kind of competition to the private health care companies,” continued the congresswoman.
Supporters of the public option believe that it would not only provide the uninsured with an affordable health care plan, but also drive insurance premiums down by forcing private insurers to compete against the government and one another.
But skeptics emerged at the town hall meeting Thursday, raising concerns from funding health care for illegal immigrants to funding abortions.
Edward Connolly — despite the fact that he is unemployed and paying $400 per month for insurance — doesn’t believe the government should be spending as much as $1 trillion to pass health reform.
“I am telling you that this is the wrong thing to do,” he said. “Our government is not in a position right now to be spending so much money.”
Connolly said he has been having trouble processing a simple COBRA claim with the federal government, in which a provision of the $787 billion economic stimulus package was intended to provide him with a 65 percent reduction in COBRA premiums.
“If the government can’t even process a COBRA claim, how are you going to process millions of claims?” asked Connolly to a room full of cheers from opponents of the current health care reform proposal.
Jeanette Baust, however, was not in agreement. She believes the voice of the opposition may be the louder voice, but not the majority voice.
“I think I represent at least numbers of my friends and family who feel bullied and over-shouted,” said Baust, who is a sociologist. “One of the precepts in sociology is whoever gets to frame the argument wins the argument … Even though you and others have very intelligent conversations about health care, it doesn’t seem like those are the voices that are getting to frame the argument to the public. I don’t think people are really hearing the arguments that need to be made.”