By Andy Cohen | Congressional Watch
Welcome to a new era of angst.
In 2009, it was the rise of the Tea Party that gave Democrats across the country major headaches, particularly when it came to health care and the soon-to-be-introduced Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.
Republicans made it known that they would have no hand in crafting the legislation, and took every opportunity to deride the Obama administration and the Democrats’ efforts at reforming health care.
The lies were staggering: Who can forget Sarah Palin’s and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s denouncements of the “death panels” that would surely be included in the law?
Aided and organized in large part by the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, protesters packed town halls and tormented Democratic lawmakers nationwide. Republicans rode that angry wave to victory in the 2010 midterm elections, overtaking a large Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and pulverizing the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the Senate.
Now it’s the Republicans’ turn. The topic this time, just like last time, is health care, and the Affordable Care Act. Only this time, the crowds are hammering Republican lawmakers over their efforts to scrap the law, with no discernible plans to replace it.
On Jan. 15, Reps. Susan Davis (D-53) and Scott Peters (D-52) held a press conference in front of Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego to discuss what the repeal of the ACA would mean for San Diegans.
“I get really frustrated when I hear the conversation in Washington. It seems to skip over the real impact the repeal will have on our communities,” Davis said. “I can’t tell you how many San Diegans I’ve spoken with who are scared to death of losing their care.”
If the repeal does become a reality, Davis said, 300,000 people in San Diego would lose access to health care.
“Unfortunately, some of my colleagues in Congress have fast tracked a repeal of the law without any plan for a replacement,” Peters said. “The repeal of the law would not only leave millions of Americans without health insurance, but it would blow a crater-sized hole in the federal budget, and it would add $350 billion to the national debt in the next 10 years.”
The press conference featured several constituents who depend on the health care law. Among them was Elizabeth Silva, who suffers from a chronic lung condition and will need a lung transplant to survive. She would not have access to care without the ACA.
Stephanie McMahon’s 3-year-old daughter, Charlie, has leukemia. “We are an average American family,” McMahon said. “My husband and I both have good jobs, and we own our home in San Diego.” Both McMahon and her husband work for small businesses and buy their health insurance through Covered California, the state’s health care exchange.
“The misconception,” McMahon said, “is that the Affordable Care Act only benefits people who are needy, poor or not working. This is not true. It guarantees people like my daughter access to health care who would otherwise be denied based on pre-existing conditions.” If the ACA is repealed, the McMahon’s will have to pay for Charlie’s care out of pocket, an expense that will exceed $1 million this year.
Republican lawmakers have been besieged at town halls, with many avoiding them altogether, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-49), one of Donald Trump’s most loyal supporters who has been the target of constituent ire for his unwillingness to address them.
Locals, determined to have their voices heard, arranged their own town hall meeting for Feb. 21 in Vista. An estimated 1,500 attended, hoping their congressman would show up. He didn’t, citing a previously scheduled meeting with a nonprofit group that provides services to the homeless.
Early that same day, Issa did respond to several hundred protesters who had gathered outside his office, holding an impromptu Q&A in acknowledgment of the crowd, a majority of whom gathered to express their displeasure with their congressman.
Issa made news again later in the week when he broke with Republican orthodoxy and called for a special prosecutor to investigate ties between the Trump administration and Russia.
Appearing on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Issa made the case for an independent inquiry, and for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any Department of Justice actions.
“You cannot have somebody, a friend of mine, Jeff Sessions, who was on the campaign and who is an appointee. You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office to take — not just to recuse. You can’t just give it to your deputy. That’s another political appointee,” Issa said.
Sessions on March 2 recused himself on any investigations involving Russia.
What Issa did not call for is an investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, and it is suspected there are many. Still, this is a significant departure from the reflexive partisanship that has become expected.
Cynics will point to Issa’s narrow victory over Doug Applegate in November — by less than 1 percent — and the fact that his seat appears to be endangered in 2018 for this newfound reasonableness. Regardless of the rationale, it’s a positive step.
Scott Peters held his own town hall at the San Diego Islamic Center, a gathering that went much more smoothly in comparison to others. One critic, however, derided Peters for his choice of venue, questioning the “appropriateness” of holding the confab in an Islamic Center.
“I fully embrace the symbolism of having this meeting here,” Peters said when challenged to push back against the anti-Muslim comments. “The religion itself does not represent a threat. In fact, I welcome it as part of my community. It makes my community richer.”
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-51), whose district spans California’s border with Mexico, pushed back against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials after he and other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were barred from a meeting with the acting director of ICE.
“Today, my colleagues in the Hispanic Caucus and I were excluded from a meeting with officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and that is completely unacceptable. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus requested a meeting with the Acting Director of ICE because our constituents are living in fear. By being excluded from today’s meeting, we were unable to get clear information regarding the immigration policies that are directly impacting our communities. All we want are answers,” Vargas said in a press release.
—Andy Cohen is a local freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.