How much more Theater of the Absurd can it get than Trump proclaiming National Women’s Health Week starting on Mother’s Day, the guy who is doing everything possible to shut down Planned Parenthood, to sabotage access to affordable health care, who would make being a woman a “pre-existing condition”, who would take away food stamps, access to Medicaid, who touts a tax cut of $1.5 trillion to the richest companies and Americans in order food stamps by $20 billion, to cut Medicare by $800 million, cut out access to contraceptives, do nothing to address the spiraling cost of life saving drugs or research advancements in Alzheimer’s.
“For some time, we have been facing a maternal health crisis in this country that will have damaging effects on generations to come. If we truly appreciate and admire mothers, we must do better,” writes Adrienne Kimmell, Vice President of Communications and Strategic Research, NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Between 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth complications each year in the U.S. and of that, Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die than white women from those complications
The U.S. is one of the most industrialized, medically-advanced nations in the world, yet has a rising maternal mortality rate. The horrifying mistreatment many mothers receive, Black mothers particularly, doesn’t align with our progress in this country, but still exists.
The stories are real. Women and mothers who didn’t have health insurance for prenatal care; who’ve suffered a postpartum hemorrhage with a devastating effect on future pregnancies; and even all-star tennis player, Serena Williams’ frightening near-death postpartum experience after a nurse refused to listen to her.
There are countless other stories and these troubling examples show the racial and economic disparities in maternal health that cost lives and hurt women.”
Trump’s “Presidential Message on National Women’s Health Week” is one lie compounded on another – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Presidential Message on National Women’s Health Week
This is an opportunity to honor the importance of women across America and renew our pledge to support their health and well being.”
Women are integral members of our families and communities who can face unique healthcare challenges. Whether breast cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, my Administration is committed to continue addressing women’s health through advancements in medical research, rapid reviews and approvals of new safe and effective therapies, and affordable treatments and care options.
The ongoing opioid crisis is of particular concern for women. On average, 115 Americans die each day from opioid-related overdoses—a factor that has contributed to the decrease in life expectancy over the past two years. The crisis has hit women particularly hard in part because they are more likely to suffer from chronic pain conditions for which opioids are often prescribed. Since 1999, the rate of deaths among women from prescription opioid overdoses have increased 461 percent. Remarkably, more American women aged 15-35 lost their lives to accidental opioid overdose in 2016 than to all cancers combined.
These harrowing statistics underscore the urgent need to save American lives and why my Administration declared the opioid crisis a nation-wide public health emergency. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has developed a comprehensive strategy to combat the opioid epidemic and enhance non-addictive pain treatments by working with medical experts, policymakers, community groups, and families who have experienced the tragedy of opioid addiction. Through these partnerships, the HHS Office of Women’s Health has awarded 20 grants to public and private organizations that are on the frontlines of the opioid crisis.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has also published guidance for treating pregnant women and new mothers with opioid use disorder, a critical resource for the Nation’s hardworking medical professionals. It is vital for the wellbeing of our Nation that we support those who are suffering from drug addiction as well as all expecting and postpartum mothers. Similarly, the National Institutes of Health is engaging in research regarding interventions to help both the mothers and infants born to women with opioid use disorder.
My Administration is also committed to supporting our working families. Through robust tax reform, we championed a doubled Child Tax Credit to ensure parents can adequately support their children. We are also focused on expanding access to paid family leave benefits for new mothers and fathers. The new reality is that in more than 60% of the homes of American married couples with children, both parents work. Additionally, women are now the primary earners in more than 40% of all families. Today, however, only 12% of private-sector workers have access to formal paid leave through their employers. Recent research suggests that women’s labor force participation in the U.S. has stalled due to the lack of family-friendly policies, including paid leave. There is a critical need to ensure that working mothers and fathers have access to paid family leave, which can support women’s participation in the labor force and promote greater financial stability for American families. Additionally, and in part to have a long-term effect on women’s health, I recently signed an Executive Order to expand access to sports, fitness, and nutrition, with a specific focus on helping girls from economically challenged communities live active and healthy lifestyles.
During this week, we reaffirm our Nation’s commitment to women and girls across America, and we continue to encourage them to put their health first. When women prosper, so do our families, our communities, and our entire Nation.
Who knew that Mother’s Day kicks off Women’s Health Week? In honor of the occasion, Donald Trump issued a statement that, like so many in TrumpWorld – like Orwell’s 1984 – bears little connection to reality:
Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Women’s Health Week
As we celebrate Women’s Health Week, beginning with Mother’s Day, we recognize the importance of providing women access to the best, evidence-based health information and care, and growing our medical knowledge through basic and applied research support.
Today, women are living longer, healthier lives than their mothers. The number of women dying from heart disease and cancer – the top two killers of women in America – has been decreasing for decades. Thanks to new breast cancer treatments, our health care professionals have saved lives and improved the quality of life for millions of women. We must continue to foster an environment that rewards these needed advances in research.
Ensuring affordable, accessible, and quality healthcare is critical to improving women’s health and ensuring that it fits their priorities at any stage of life. In particular, women should have access to quality prenatal, maternal, and newborn care. Under the current healthcare system, however, the lack of choice in health insurance and in healthcare providers, along with skyrocketing premium and out-of-pocket costs, are failing our citizens, our families, and, in particular, our women. Studies show that women are often the primary healthcare decision-maker for their family and they deserve better options.
I am committed to working with Congress to help mothers—and fathers—have paid family leave so that childcare is accessible and affordable, and to invest in the comprehensive care that women receive at community health centers. Through these reforms, and my 2018 Presidential Budget, we will enable access to the critical healthcare services women need.
The Republican contrived American Health Care Act would repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which made great strides in making access to health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans and slowing the annual increases in premiums which had been rising at rates 3 to 5 times faster than inflation. Obamacare was designed to work within the for-profit health insurance industry, rather than do what every other industrialized nation does and offer universal health care. Some continued to complain that premiums and deductibles were too high, but rather than solve that problem, Republicans have sought to repeal Obamacare 60 times, going so far as to shut down the government in 2013 rather than accept a budget that provided for the subsidies that make health insurance affordable for tens of millions of Americans.
Trump has made it a defining issue to get repeal, no matter the damage or loss of health insurance which is quite literally a life-and-death issue. But the AHCA is more than just a matter of Trump’s ego, it is also about reducing taxes for the wealthiest – who are assessed a small surcharge to fund ACA – and crucial to Trump’s other massive giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations, his tax “plan.”
It’s remarkable that this act, which would completely rework health care, representing one-sixth of the US economy and impacting every single person, is being pushed through without any hearings, input from medical professionals or even health insurance companies, without scoring from the Congressional Budget Office as to its true cost or how many people would find health insurance unaffordable or inaccessible.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo spells out how AHCA would affect millions of New Yorkers, and specifically attacks an amendment foisted by two New York Republican Congressmen that exclusively targets New York:
“The Republican health care bill is an assault on women and an assault on New York. It would allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans based on pre-existing conditions, force millions of New Yorkers to lose coverage, and slash Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars.
“As a direct result of the amendment introduced by Congressmen Faso and Collins, this provision alone would cut Medicaid funding for New York by $2.3 billion and cripple hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities across the state.
“Most disturbingly, this bill penalizes New Yorkers because we believe in reproductive rights and ensure by law that medically necessary abortions are covered by insurance carriers. I’m calling on all of New York’s Congressional delegation—Republican and Democrat alike—to stand up for New York values and vote against this terrible bill.”
The American Health Care Act will be disastrous for New York:
The plan will leave 2.7 million New Yorkers without health care coverage
It will cut $4.7 billion from the state’s Medicaid budget.
It will put at risk 7 million people who rely on Medicaid services and other programs created under the Affordable Care Act
And it threatens the entire New York State health care system, which serves 19.5 million New Yorkers.
The Collins/Faso amendment, which targets only New York, stops counties from paying a share of Medicaid. It would have a devastating effect on New Yorkers:
It will cut $2.3 billion in Medicaid funding to the State. When added to the $4.7 billion cost of the ACHA over the next four years, the total cost to the State would rise to $6.9 billion
Steep cuts would force New York State to increase taxes, slash coverage to millions of New Yorkers, or devastate health care providers:
Nursing Home payments would be cut by $401 million
Home care payments would be cut by $360 million
Hospital payments would be cut by $355 million
The bill punishes New York for its support for women’s reproductive rights by threatening to take away citizens’ access to tax credits that are intended to make health insurance more affordable:
New York requires that all commercial insurance policies cover abortion services. In January, Governor Cuomo took new action to ensure that contraceptive drugs and devices are covered by commercial health insurance policies without co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles
The Republican health care bill would prohibit the use of tax credits to support the purchase of insurance plans that cover abortion services.
As a result, the bill would effectively defund the Essential Plan, forcing 685,000 low-income people, half of whom are women, to lose their insurance and denying them $1.5 billion in tax credits.
In addition, roughly 143,000 lower-income New Yorkers whose income is just above the threshold for the Essential Plan, half of whom are women, would be denied $400 million more in tax credits that help them afford insurance.
This bill also includes an amendment that will enable insurers to charge more for people with preexisting conditions in some states, rolling back a key achievement of the Affordable Care Act.
In New York, 8.4 million people under the age of 65 have preexisting conditions.
The MacArthur amendment would allow states to opt out of provisions that restrict providers from raising prices on people with preexisting conditions.
Removing protections for people with pre-existing conditions will result in the sick paying high premiums and would force those who cannot afford it to lose coverage.
The health plan would also permit states to charge older people more, which would also force people who cannot afford it to lose coverage.
Trump has not only set back American progress on every aspect of civil, environmental, economic and criminal justice a century to the Gilded Age, but threatens to do the same with women’s rights and standing in society. And I’m not just referring to the fact that he has made it okay to be a misogynistic, sexist, racist, xenophobic bit.
Hillary Clinton in her campaign noted that it isn’t just “attitude” or “culture” that propagates bias, but systemic reinforcement in the economy, the tax code, the courts, the law, and most especially health care and reproductive rights, that, more than anything else for all practical purposes keep women down and lacking power.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), explicitly reversed those impediments, which allowed insurance companies to make women pay higher premiums for their pre-existing condition of being a woman.
The health care “reform” that Republicans are trying to ram through would not only restore that ability of insurance companies to charge women more so that they couldn’t actually afford prenatal care, or for that matter a delivery, or the necessary care for their infant, especially one that is born without all the advantages of its mother having had access to prenatal care, but they propose to defund Planned Parenthood, used by 4 million people (52 million visits a year), resulting in 551,000 fewer unintended pregnancies, and of course, they intend to end women’s reproductive rights altogether.
After the Women’s March on Washington the day after inauguration, which brought out millions across the US and the world, I proposed that women should strike to demonstrate how essential to the economy women were. On March 8, International Women’s Day, there was just such a strike, “A Day Without Women.” But as the big day approached, I realized it had to fail because women predominate in jobs that are life and death – nurses, teachers, home healthcare and daycare providers, legal services (the list goes on and on and on).
“My babies,” is how a Great Neck kindergarten teacher described her students during a school board hearing on the proposed bond, noting that there is a significant difference in learning readiness for children who come to kindergarten with or without having attended pre-K, which follows through throughout their elementary schooling. They don’t catch up. I am quite sure she was in her classroom teaching instead of joining the “Day Without Women” strike.
Moreover, unless a woman worked for a sympathetic boss, she likely could not afford to lose pay, and possibly her job.
Consequently, the full impact of women on the economy, and in society – that women comprise half of the entire paid labor force for the first time in history, mothers are now close to 50 percent of all primary breadwinners, and women drive 70 to 80 percent of all consumer purchasing – went unnoticed, and women as a political force were pretty much told to sit down and shut up, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Senator Elizabeth Warren.
But, as ever, Senator Warren expressed best why “women’s issues are economic issues” and how the system is rigged against them:
Women are the main breadwinners, or joint breadwinners, in two-thirds of the families in America, she said, but:
Having a child is the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.
Single moms are more likely than any other group to file for bankruptcy – more likely than the elderly, more likely than divorced men, and more likely than people living in poor neighborhoods.
Single moms who have been to college are actually 60% more likely to end up bankrupt than those with just a high school diploma.
“The deck has been stacked against working women and moms for years. And with the Republicans in charge, it’s getting worse – a lot worse.”
Women struggle under the burden of student loan debt, child care costs that equal college tuition, make 78 cents to the dollar of her male colleague and can be fired just for asking what the guy down the hall makes (Republicans are blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act).
Mothers are 10 times more likely than fathers to take time off when their kids are sick, and 60% are not paid for that time off. Too many women fear losing their jobs because they are stuck having to choose between work or caring for someone they love. (Republicans won’t even let us have a vote on paid sick time and family leave, and Trump rolled back Obama’s executive orders on parental leave and overtime pay).
Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women but the minimum wage hasn’t gotten a federal raise in seven years, and mothers of very young children disproportionately work low-wage jobs (Trump rolled back Obama’s executive order and Republicans have blocked every effort to raise it.).
Because women make less than men throughout their lifetimes, they receive, on average, about $4,000 less a year than men in Social Security benefits (as well as pensions). This really hurts because women are less likely to have other assets, so they rely more heavily on those Social Security checks to keep them out of poverty. Republicans still threaten to cut Social Security for women and families and raise the retirement age, while their health care plan would also increase the cost of having health care and likely toss off millions of women and children from any health care at all.
“Donald Trump was right about one thing: the game is rigged. It’s rigged for rich guys like Donald Trump. The system works great for those who can hire armies of lawyers and lobbyists, but it leaves women and families behind. A system in which Republicans work tirelessly to rip away health care from millions of women and defund Planned Parenthood health clinics, while giving away billions of dollars in subsidies to Big Oil. A system that cuts Head Start programs and NIH medical research, but protects tax breaks for billionaires and giant corporations,” Warren stated.
And no where is this “rigged system” more apparent than in the Trump/Ryan plan to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a plan that will strip health insurance from millions, raise the cost for women, for older people, for the poor and sick, in order to give the 400 richest Americans—who averaged incomes of $318 million in 2014—a tax cut of about $7 million a year, a windfall that they will happily reinvest in buying the election of candidates who will do their bidding. (Trump doesn’t pay taxes, so this wouldn’t benefit him.)
Indeed, as it turns out, there isn’t a single “Women’s Issue” but rather, a broad gamut of issues are central to women: climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, gun violence prevention, food, water and drug safety, education, workers rights, health care and public health; infrastructure and mass transportation; immigration rights, criminal justice reform, affordable housing. What is there about life that doesn’t concern women?
The fascinating thing about that ignorant lout who is unbelievably serving in Congress but can’t understand why a man should have to pay for prenatal care is that society has a collective interest in women’s health, and public health. If someone doesn’t go to the doctor and can’t afford to stay home from work, their communicable disease will spread. When people don’t go to the doctor for an early diagnosis, but only go when the condition becomes severe, society as a whole foots the bill for catastrophic care, and is deprived of that individual’s productivity.
Clearly, there should be a different sort of strike, one that would not require women to relinquish their work responsibilities: they should strike sex. Women are considered mere vessels to incubate an embryo (an elected official actually said that), a lesser person with fewer legal and political rights than a zygote. Women are singularly punished for having sex. Sex in Trump’s misogynistic RightWing America has come to mean enslavement. (And yes, I realize this sounds as crazy as Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who has taken over Housing & Urban Development, who equated the slaves who were brought to the US in chains at the bottom of boats to “immigrants” with their high aspirations.)
John Oliver, in his summation of International Women’s Day on Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, said: “Every year, the best way of gauging not just how far women have come, but perhaps how far they still have to go, is by watching powerful men around the world trip over their dicks while talking about the day.”
He highlighted Vladimir Putin, who told his nation, “Women give us life and perpetuate it in our children. We will do our utmost to surround our dear women with care and attention, so that they can smile more often.”
Women in Congress (still only 20%) wore white to Trump’s joint address, to symbolize the suffragettes of a century ago and show solidarity.
“We wear white to unite against any attempts by the Trump Administration to roll back the incredible progress women have made in the last century, and we will continue to support the advancement of all women,” Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., the chair of the party’s Women’s Working Group, said in a statement.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, in response to a question posed by Mark Halperin on MSNBC, said:“Obviously the consequences for a state like New York could be devastating. Depending on what they do, you have 3 million people who are insured under Obamacare. What are you going to do with the 3 million people? Medicaid is a big piece of our budget. They talk about block grants, turning it over to the state. That sounds great. The question is when they block grant it, do they actually transfer the money? Remember the old expression, passing the buck without passing the bucks. Governor of New York, my fear is the rhetoric of give it back to the states sounds great, but if they give it back to the states and they cut the funding, you put the states in a really terrible situation. So I get the political appeal of repeal Obamacare, but you know, be careful what you ask for and I think this is the dog that chases the car. What are they going to do? And you have millions and millions of people who are affected and you could devastate the budget. I just did my budget. I said, “Look, I don’t have a contingency plan.” Because I don’t know what they’re going to do, and frankly, they could take an action for which there is no contingency plan. There are rumors that they could cut the state of New York 2, 3 billion dollars. I can’t make up 2, 3 billion dollars. It would wreak havoc in this state. So it’s their move and I want to see what they come up with.”
Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, commenting on a proposed amendment from Congressman Collins (R-NY), said:
“Our Founding Fathers warned us this day would come. Partisan politics would overtake good government for the people. The Medicaid changes being proposed in Washington would cut taxes for wealthy special interests while devastating New York State’s finances and all but eliminating health care for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
“What’s worse, a New York Republican Congressman, Chris Collins is offering an amendment that would wreak havoc on the state. While I understand that the Democrats in Washington are attacking Collins on ethics issues and are having a heated political fight, they shouldn’t be played out at the expense of everyday New Yorkers.
“Here are the facts: The overall Medicaid plan would cost the state billions of dollars of lost federal funds and jeopardize hospital stability. As if that were not enough, Rep. Collins would have the state assume the counties’ share of Medicaid expenses outside of New York City. The current breakdown is 13 percent county, 36 percent state, and 51 percent federal. This ill-conceived plan would cost his home state approximately $2.3 billion. Unbelievably, that’s on top of the cost of the Republican Affordable Care Act repeal plan – another $2.4 billion.
“Translation: Rep. Collins is proposing a tax increase on New Yorkers to the tune of $4.7 billion. This one-two punch would destroy all the hard work the Governor and Legislature have accomplished in the last six years to lower taxes across the board and achieve the lowest spending increases in recorded history. New Yorkers will be at risk of losing their healthcare, hospitals will be forced to lay off workers, and our vulnerable elderly will find it much harder to afford nursing home care.
“On the merits, the counties have no right to claim this is an undue burden. They paid a percentage of health care costs even before Medicaid – and in fact, currently have a more favorable agreement than in decades.
“In 1960 – well before New York State and most counties had any sales tax revenue to pay for it – Congress passed the Kerr-Mills Act, which created a national role in funding health care for the elderly. Under this program, the counties in New York paid approximately 44 percent of the cost of care, the state paid about 38 percent, and the federal government paid around 18 percent.
“In 1965, Medicaid replaced that program and the counties paid 25 percent. That same year, the state began giving counties the option of collecting sales tax on their behalf. Every county in New York has subsequently agreed to this option. Many counties in the nation don’t get sales tax, and most of those receive less than our counties. Moreover, the state recently agreed to give the counties additional help – after hearing the counties’ complaints of the growing Medicaid costs, the state has held them harmless for any increases since 2011.
“As a result, the counties’ share for Medicaid is down from 25 percent to 13 percent, and the state assumed this cost while still living within the 2 percent spending cap, and all while cutting taxes. The state is not asking the counties to do anything more than we have done ourselves. In fact, the state has done far more. If the Collins amendment passed, the state would need to raise income taxes or the counties would have to forego their share of sales tax in exchange for the state picking up the additional Medicaid costs.
“In short, Rep. Collins’ amendment and the Affordable Care Act repeal would transfer $4.7 billion in costs to the state which would translate into a new tax for New Yorkers. I know firsthand that the people of the 27th Congressional District face enough challenges in their lives – they don’t need to worry about increasing health care costs or new taxes.
“Rep. Collins should stop prioritizing his wealthy friends and start helping his home state by protecting the most vulnerable from losing their healthcare and putting the state budget at risk. Remember, as my mentor Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to always point out, New York is a donor state – we pay more in federal taxes than we receive back.
“Mr. Collins, try practicing good government rather than partisan politics.”
The only ones the Trump/Pence/Ryan/McConnell Administration care about, speak to are the ultra-rightwing conservatives. This from the White House, Friday, March 10:
READOUT OF THE VICE PRESIDENT’S LISTENING SESSION WITH CONSERVATIVE LEADERS
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price assembled dozens of conservative leaders today at the White House to discuss the multi-faceted effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. The Vice President and the Secretary highlighted the work being accomplished through legislative and regulatory efforts to end Obamacare’s government takeover of healthcare and provide market-based reforms that will lower costs and provide more choice to Americans. They also invited conservative groups to continue offering their ideas for improving healthcare in America and agreed to keep communication channels open as the President and Congress work to fulfill the promise of repealing and replacing the flawed Obamacare law.
The following individuals participated:
Thomas Binion, Heritage Foundation
Melissa Ortiz, Able Americans
Mia Heck, ALEC
Jason Pye, FreedomWorks
Matthew Schlapp, American Conservative Union
Nan Swift, National Taxpayers Union
Richard Manning, Americans for Limited Government
Grace Turner, Galen Institute
Kenneth Cuccinelli, Senate Conservatives Fund
Jennifer Butler, State Policy Network
Daniel Schneider, American Conservative Union
John McKechnie, ABA Health Savings Account (HSA) Council
Stephen Keen, National Federation of Independent Business
Lisa Nelson, ALEC
Jennifer Hatten, ABA Health Savings Account (HSA) Council
David Bozell, ForAmerica
Phil Kerpen, American Commitment
Peter Sepp, National Taxpayers Union
Timothy Chapman, Heritage Action
Bradley Close, National Federation of Independent Business
Kent Lassmam, Competitive Enterprise Institute
Jennifer Martin, Tea Party Patriots
Shonda Kalra, Tea Party Patriots
Amanda Moorhead, National Federation of Independent Business
Bill Pascoe, Tea Party Patriots
Christopher Jacobs, Texas Public Policy Foundation
Adam Brandon, FreedomWorks
Michael Cannon, CATO
Bob Carlstrom, Association of Mature American Citizens
Andy Roth, Club for Growth
Heather Curry, CATO
During the Presidents Week recess when Congressmembers are supposed to meet with constituents, I attended two jam-packed rallies focused on saving Obamacare (this followed the rallies held coast-to-coast in the days before the inauguration). In each of these, desperate people (dismissed by Republicans as “paid professional agitators”) stood up to preserve the Affordable Care Act.
While not perfect (after all, how could it be when Obama had to thread a ridiculously tiny needle to get anything passed the Republican wall of opposition), Obamacare has brought coverage to 20 million previously uninsured people, reducing the percentage of uninsured Americans to a historic low of 8.6%, allowed children up to age 26 stay on their parents’ plan, mandated coverage for preexisting conditions, ended lifetime caps, capped the amount of premium that for-profit insurance pocketed for non-patient purposes at 20% (versus 97% that Medicare spends on patient care ), instituted basic standards of coverage that included, for the first time, wellness visits, coverage for certain regular tests (mammograms, colonoscopy).
The secret sauce? Mandating coverage or else pay a penalty, but if you didn’t earn enough to pay, you would be able to get subsidies from the government Why? Because the whole thing revolved around the idea that young and healthy people would pay into the system, bringing down the insurance premium for everyone. And every policy would cover certain basics, like child birth and prostate cancer, mammogram and colonscopy (ending the higher premiums for a woman).
And it was working: in the first place because if people can go to their doctors earlier, get diagnostic tests and catch illnesses earlier, they are less expensive to treat, let alone reduce the amount of suffering while increasing a person’s productivity during their prime years.
Let’s review: before Obamacare, nearly 50 million people were without health insurance and tens of thousands of families were losing health insurance as they were losing their jobs (and homes) to the Bush/Cheney Great Recession. 20,000 people a year were dying needlessly simply for lack of access to affordable health care.
And, for years, for-profit insurance companies, with a 33% margin, were raising premiums at three to five times the CPI each year; routinely dropping doctors, denying coverage, throwing people off for “preexisting conditions.” Companies were dropping health benefits for employees.
“Preexisting condition? Life is a preexisting condition, resulting from sexual contact and will invariable end in death,” Dr Martha Livingstone, vice chair of Physicians for a National Health Program, told an overflow audience at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Huntington. “We all have a preexisting condition. We all need health care because we are human beings. How we will get it?”
Congressman Tom Suozzi, who stood in front of SRO town hall at the JCC in Plainview, and again at the Huntington health care rally, and back in January, with Kathleen Rice, at a massive health care rally, said about Obamacare, “Mend it. Don’t End it.”
The key problems with Obamacare, people complained, are high deductibles (for the cheapest plans), that premiums rose significantly (after rising at the slowest rate of increase in 50 years and mainly because of the Republican sabotage that prevented the full implementation), and that doctors, and even insurers would change (which happened before, as well).
What Republicans are proposing now, though, doesn’t “fix” any of these problems. In essence, the Republican plan favors the healthy and the wealthy, shifting the burden of payment while providing fewer benefits onto working people, low-income people and the elderly, while – and here is the added bonus – exploding the budget deficit. Millions will lose insurance; costs will skyrocket, and Republicans are ramming it through without “scoring” its impact on the budget or people.
They concocted the bill in secret, are ramming it through without proper analysis, scrutiny or debate, or even “scoring” by the Congressional Budget Office, and here’s the added subterfuge: they are repealing the elements in stages: by 2018 for the first parts (to minimize impact on midterm elections) and by 2020 for the complete repeal (to ease the way for Trump’s reelection).
The Republican plan begins with ending that “freedom killing” mandate, which is the hinge upon which access to affordable health care rests, because by requiring everyone – young, healthy people who might otherwise defray health insurance costs – to purchase, the pool is large enough to keep premiums down for everyone, while covering everything from child birth to mental health to pre-existing conditions.
Instead of a mandate, enforced with a modest tax penalty, to insure that enough healthy, young people are in the pool to lower everyone’s premium while expanding care and access even if there is a pre-existing condition, the Republican plan provides for a 30% “surcharge” if you have let insurance lapse more than 60 days. So if you have lost your job, and therefore your health insurance, and can’t pay, you will only get further and further behind.
The other prime elements:
Instead of subsidies for people who don’t earn enough to purchase health insurance, Republicans want to give tax credits, which only are beneficial if you earn enough to pay. What is more, they want tax credits not to be based on income at all, but on age, so a 60 year old would get $4000 in tax credits while a 30-year old minimum-wage worker would get $2000 –still only a fraction of the cost of a minimally basic health plan – up to $14,000 in credits for a family.
The other big idea to “afford” health care is the Health Savings Account, which Republicans have wanted forever – another scheme to bolster Wall Street donors, and provide yet another device for the wealthiest to shield income from tax. The flaw is that you need to have enough money to stash away in HSA to begin with. But suppose you get a cancer diagnosis or are hit by a car before you have accumulated sufficient funds? Or you contract some illness that blows through your HSA? Tough luck.
The GOP plan would end the Medicaid expansion – when the federal government paid 90% instead of 50% of the state’s Medicaid cost — which will result in 10 million people in 31 states losing health insurance.
Another keystone of the GOP health care con is to give states block grants – a fixed amount that has no correlation to actual need. The interesting thing is that Governors tend not to use the money for its purpose (health care for the poorest residents), but for pet priorities like lowering taxes for businesses.
The Republicans say they want to shift “power” back to the states. But states always had the ability, before, to devise their own health care plan, as long as it met basic standards of the Affordable Care Act. What states want is the ability –and the excuse – not to provide universal coverage.
Republicans will claim that their plan will continue to cover pre-existing conditions. But their idea is to stick people with pre-existing conditions into high-risk pools, which could put the cost out of reach.
Indeed, no one has bothered to mention that Obamacare capped the amount that the for-profit insurance companies could charge for non-patient services – it was at 33% (versus a 3% administrative budget for Medicare) before the ACA, which required 80% of the premium to go to patient services. That is out the window.
An added zinger, just for good, is that the plan ends federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Gotcha!
Trump proposes to cure the cost problem making it possible to buy insurance across state lines, without saying how that would actually reduce the cost of the premium, under the pretext that “competition” will lower the cost. Except that the same few companies dominate the market in most states, and like airlines, can just raise premiums as they like. Also, this would negate New York’s ability to set standards on insurance companies. And wouldn’t it also mean that New Yorkers would pay the higher premium for Southern obesity?
Most of the changes are phased in – they don’t get implemented until after the 2018 midterm elections, and Obamacare is not completely repealed until after the 2020 elections.
But what Republicans claim is the “unsustainability” of Obamacare is the result of Republicans efforts to sabotage it from day 1. And the first thing that Trump did? Ended enforcement of the mandate and issue a proposal to cut next year’s enrollment period in half allow insurance companies to easily raise deductibles, limit patients’ choice of doctors, and restrict others from getting covered mid-year — even if they have a child or lose their employer-based insurance. Insurance companies are pulling out because the Republicans are intentionally making it impossible for them to do business.
By immediately repealing the mandate as well as the taxes that support Obamacare, it is truly unsustainable and more insurance companies that are planning premium rates and participation now, will either pull out or hike up premiums to ridiculous levels because essentially, they are only insuring sick, older people.
The taxes that pay for the Obamacare health care benefits are also being immediately repealed which will explode the budget deficit, which somehow, Republicans only care about when a Democrat is in the Oval office.
And here is the stunner: the Republicans, who have worked this up in secret, without any debate or public commentary (they dismiss the millions who have come out to town halls, rallies and protests as “paid professional agitators” instead of people with real concerns), plan to shove the legislation through without even scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. They can’t say how much health insurance will cost in TrumpWorld, or how many people will wind up losing health insurance or who wind up being woefully uninsured because they can only afford a minimal policy that doesn’t actually cover anything. They can’t say how many more employers (only about half were offering health insurance benefits before ACA) will simply stop providing any health care benefit at all. That’s Freedom! That’s Choice!
“Do we want people to have socialized medicine or individual accountability, personal choice, where businesses decide?” Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY) asked hypothetically.
Obamacare did not just benefit the 30 million people who were able to afford health insurance, 20 million of them for the first time. It benefited every American who also has insurance, and every American who has Medicare, as well. And remember the complaints with Obamacare? That deductibles were too high; premiums went up significantly from the first year (except they had traditionally gone up at 3 to 5 times the CPI, without any limits). That doctors left the plan or insurance companies changed the plan to exited the exchanges? The Republican plan does not improve any of this. Instead, it returns health care to the total control of for-profit companies, who can raise premiums at will, drop doctors at will, set lifetime caps or refuse to cover certain procedures.
Health care should be a right, not a privilege reserved with the means to pay for it. But the Republican mold would create a system of unequal protection throughout the land. If you happen to live in New York State, you are likely to have better access to life saving, life-affirming care for your family than if you live in Texas.
The Republican plan is a prescription for sicker people who don’t get the checkups, early diagnosis and wellness care to prevent more serious (and costly) and deadly maladies. But they don’t care. Indeed, the rightwingers like Freedom Caucus who are howling mad at the American Health Care Act are upset that it is not draconian enough, that it is “Obamacare Light”.
In TrumpWorld, people are back at the mercy of the for-profit health insurance and health care industry, back under the thumb of employers and abusive spouses. Now that’s freedom-killing, as much as it is a death penalty.
It is as Alan Grayson said early in the Obamacare debate: “The Republican health care plan: don’t get sick. The Republicans have a back-up plan in case you do get sick … Die quickly!”
Rightwingers, conservatives don’t hate Obamacare because it smacks of “socialized medicine.” They hate it because they believe when everyone is entitled to health care, there will be a shortage of doctors, of hospital beds. They will have to wait for appointments. They fear “rationing,” not caring that to avoid that feared scenario, it means that 50 million people will be excluded from health care system altogether.
The solution to having truly universal health care is to reform the health care system – more physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, online diagnosis and triage, more early diagnosis and wellness care.
Contrary to the rightwing hysteria (death panels!) Obamacare is not socialized medicine because it bent health care into a pretzel in order to retain for-profit health insurance entities as the gatekeeper between patients and health care. But the epic failure of the Republican plan, which more than restores ultimate control over people’s lives and quality of life to for-profit companies and employers and abusive spouses, will likely result in a true universal, Medicare-for-All, single-payer system.
Trouble is, that won’t happen for decades more, and not until after hundreds of thousands of people have suffered miserably, died needlessly, prematurely, for lack of access to timely, affordable, quality health care.
With the chaos and uncertainty at the federal level, New York Progressives see an opportunity to push for single-payer health care in the state – a plan that has been approved by the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but has been defeated by the Republican-controlled Senate (with the help of the so-called Independent Democratic coalition of state senators who were elected as Democrats but caucus with Republicans).
Irrespective of what Republicans do in Congress, Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of Long Island Activists (LongIslandActivists.org) said, “There is a lot we can do in New York – people forget we can act locally, not everything happens in Congress. Single payer is a real possibility in New York.”
Widelec exposed the lies that are used to beat back universal health care, despite the fact that every other industrialized nation has such a system:
That universal health care is too expensive, will add trillions of dollars to the national debt – but that is belied by the fact that the US spends twice as much on health care as any other industrialized nation, health care amounts to 1/6 of the entire economy, and the outcomes are poor, with the US ranked 32nd among nations, contradicting the claim that the US offers “the best health care in the world.”
Another lie is that universal health care will result in rationing, ”as if 20 million people with no insurance isn’t rationing, or people who have insurance but can’t afford deductibles or copays isn’t rationing, or insurance companies denying care isn’t rationing,” he said.
Janet Green, a nurse who lived in Canada for two years and now lives on Long Island, spoke of the difference: “We lived it, loved it – you could choose any doctor you like, be rid of billing, deductibles, copays; to be covered regardless of age, job status, preexisting conditions, personal wealth. No wonder the Canadians love their single payer universal health insurance system with private provision..
“When we moved to Long Island, the unfairness and inefficiency of an increasingly corporatized health care system was increasingly hard to take because I knew another system. I had coverage through husband’s job – but I was angry, not lucky, to be part of such an unfair system.” That included problems with doctors in/out network; merger/replacement of insurance plans, with changing rules, preferred provider lists not once but twice in 4 years. “There is none of that on single payer, no deductibles or copays or networks.
“I saw the misinformation spread by those most affected, the insurance industry –myths about Canadian system.
“North of the border and throughout the rest of the world, it is understood that to be a compassionate, enlightened society, there must be universal health coverage.
Dr. Martha Livingstone, vice chair of Physicians for a National Health Program, also spoke from experience about Canada’s health program, because she lived in Canada while getting one of her degrees.
“There are only two reasons we don’t have national health insurance Medicare for All – it is 1/6 of the economy and very powerful people are arrayed against us who will do everything in their power to persuade us we can’t have it. And our failure of imagination.
Indeed, it may well be that Republicans have overplayed their hand and the pendulum will swing back much more forcefully. If they succeed in repealing Obamacare and replacing it with Trumpcare, it can cost Republicans to lose Congress in 2018 and the White House in 2020, just as Obamacare cost Democrats control in 2010. Instead of Obamacare, which was Obama’s attempt to appease conservatives who demand a for-profit health care system, there will be universal health care, single-payer Medicare for All, a socialized health care system.
She told of a Victoria BC woman whose son had to go to five specialists before a rare brain tumor was diagnosed, treated, so he could survive. “In the states, he would have been one of 45,000 Americans dead of treatable medical conditions because he didn’t have access to timely medical care.
“Preexisting condition? Life is a preexisting condition, resulting from sexual contact and will invariable end in death. We all have a preexisting condition. We all need health care because we are human beings. How we will get it?
“We are the 99%. We don’t mind paying taxes when they provide for things we need. Who doesn’t want to pay taxes? it’s the billionaires – they want us to be uneducated, unhoused, unfed and if sick, they like us to die [and not be a burden on society]. It is a life/death fight.
“We have to protect the Affordable Care Act, but frankly my dears, ACA was written by the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank. It is a Republican plan first put into place by then Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. You have piece a that‘s public, that funds the majority, and the piece that’s private.
“What Romneycare did, then ACA, was to build on the wildly expensive private for-profit sector of the system. We want to build in the wildly successful, inexpensively administered Medicare program…
“There are only two things wrong with Medicare: it doesn’t cover everything, doesn’t cover everybody. So improve it, Medicare for all.”
But regardless of what happens at the federal level, the state can create its own single-payer plan.
“Let New York be the first to have single-payer. What it will do for us in New York State is save us $50 billion, and save everybody but the very wealthiest New Yorkers money over what paying now for lousy access to care, where we have narrow networks, where some insurance genius can tell us at any moment, ‘Well, if you looked at p 793.’ The bill gets rid of all that – no copays, deductibles for a human right. We have to reinforce that. We know we won’t get it through the New York Senate this year, but 2018 if we hold their feet to the fire.”
“This event left me hopeful,” Widelec said before sending everyone off to their breakout sessions to come up with local actions. “The election of Trump wasn’t a hopeful time, but I am hopeful. I believe this is not a matter of left versus right, this is a matter of right versus wrong. One good thing about the 1%: we outnumber them 99 to 1.
Hundreds rallied at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington (UUFH), under the aegis of Long Island Activists, to strategize how to save Obamacare from Republicans who are moving swiftly to repeal it and replace it with something that is far more costly, would knock tens of millions off health insurance, would raise taxes for middle class and working Americans, and essentially be more costly for less care. But the Long Islanders went an extra step: to demand single-payer – that is, Medicare for All – beginning with New York State.
The rally was one of 150 across the country last weekend with some coordination of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution group.
The activists jammed a main room, overflowed the overflow room, and were lined up outside, producing a kind of echo-effect to cheers and boos inside the hall.
“Something feels wrong. Public policy in no way reflects public opinion,” said Ron Widelec, a member of the steering committee of Long Island Activists (LongIslandActivists.org).
“We live in the richest country in history, yet 20 million go without health insurance, tens of millions have insurance but can’t afford to use because the deductibles so high – choosing between feeding children or going to a doctor when not feeling well. These are unacceptable choices in a country this wealthy…
“These are life-or-death situations. That’s why people are out here. It turns out, if you try to take away people’s health care, get angry and show up. Tens of thousands die without access to health care, or can’t afford access so that is the same as not having access. People die if they can’t afford an Epipen.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was not perfect because it was designed to appease conservatives. Indeed, the framework came out of the right-wing think tank, The Heritage Foundation, and was first implemented by Republican Governor Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Elements such as a public option or a Medicare buy-in were omitted in order to satisfy so-called moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, who nonetheless voted against the ACA.
“Many members of Congress are dedicated to the idea they can make the situation even worse . Our position is clear: health care is a human right,” he declared to boisterous cheers.
“While no one thinks ACA perfect, it did things we need to fight for,” Widelec said. “ACA didn’t go far enough – a human right doesn’t have co-pays or deductibles.
“On the federal level, there is very little we can do with Congress. We know Republicans want to overthrow ACA… We have to fight to protect Obamacare and put pressure even on those too cowardly to hold town halls [like Long Island Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin].
But while progressives all along wanted universal health care – that is, single-payer or what is termed Medicare for All – the most immediate goal is to preserve the key elements of Obamacare: covering young people on their parents’ plan until age 26; pre-existing conditions; no lifetime caps; a cap of no more than 20% of the premium going for non-patient spending , and minimal standards for what insurance policies cover – which turns out can only be offered if there is a mandate so that healthy people purchase insurance; otherwise, deductibles or copays or premiums are so high, they are unaffordable.
“It’s not true that the Republicans don’t have a plan,” warned Doreen DiLeonardo, who hosts a progressive radio show. Indeed, the plan that was exposed by Politico is essentially the 2015 bill introduced by then Congressman Tom Price, now the Secretary of Health & Human Services.
According to Politico, the Republican plan would rescind the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people’s income, and all of the law’s taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Instead of subsidies to help people with low incomes afford health insurance, it would give tax credits based on age rather than income. That means that multi-millionaire Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon-Mobil and now Trump’s Secretary of State would get a bigger tax credit than the 30-year old who works at Starbucks. In any case, tax credits mainly benefit wealthier people. Meanwhile, the other big Republican idea is for Health Savings Accounts, which once again, benefit wealthier people, while those who are barely affording food and rent will be unable to stash away money in untaxed accounts. (See: Exclusive: Leaked GOP Obamacare replacement shrinks subsidies, Medicaid expansion)
What Democrats point to, though, are provisions that would wind up taxing middle class and working class families for the health insurance benefits they get from their employers, while at the same time ending taxes on the wealthiest Americans that funded the Obamacare subsidies.
“If it were such a good plan, they wouldn’t be hiding it,” DiLeonardo said.
This plan is moving swiftly, she warned.
The Republicans’ “destructive, nihilistic policy will ruin the ACA,” Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who has sponsored universal health care in the State Assembly, said. “They attempted to ruin it from beginning, based on lies. Each and every one here today, superheroesque, survivors of the ‘massacre at Bowling Green’, we know 20-30 million Americans would lose insurance, we know the tragedy that will flow from that – we will return to days preexisting conditions rob people of access to health care. You’re on your own. Lifetime caps – if someone had serious condition, cut off, no more insurance., – when that happens we all pay one way or another for their treatment. Women will pay more for identical coverage, young adults up to 26 no longer on parents’ coverage, you’re on your own.
“We know the lies being told. Trump said ACA robbed people of their insurance. We know that is just another lie. More than 20 million were able to get insured because of ACA, we now have a record low percentage of uninsured people, 10.9%.
“Trump said some plans were canceled [using this to accuse Obama of lying about ACA]. But that’s because they were deficient, illusory plans. What Trump and his confederates want to do, is to allow New Yorkers to go into market and buy insurance from other states. NYS is not going to allow that to happen. We will demand (because NY controls insurance product) that any insurance product sold here has to provide minimum requirements, or else people will get ripped off. Those are the kind of policies people lost because of ACA.”
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa lied when he said Obamacare would create death panels that would pull the plug on grandma. But a century ago, the worldwide flu epidemic killed off 50 to 100 million people, and bodies were piled up on street corners in Chicago waiting for the city to pick them up, people were on their own, too.
“That’s not that long ago – a blink in time of human history. We stand together you rebellious Americans to demand the human right of health care, and we stand together (big applause). This is a fight for our families, our communities. We are 36 years since the first days of Reagan Administration into a philosophy that says government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem, your enemy. You and I will fight for our families, communities, and damn well we stand up and fight for our government.”
Recalling that President Theodore Roosevelt, a progressive who busted up trusts and created the first national parks, whose home at Sagamore Hill is just a few miles from where this rally is taking place, Ron Widelec said, “Once republicans were progressives, put in policies that helped people, now they are wedded to the invisible hand of the American market, not noticing, it is a hand around throats of American people. We will fight back.”
Newly elected Congressman Tom Suozzi, who has pledged to support universal health care once Democrats take back Congress (and held a packed town hall this past week in which support for ACA was a key issue), said “I believe in health care as a human right. This is a matter of life-and-death for many families now. We have to do a couple of things: protect ACA is the first thing. There is great energy behind that. But we need to improve upon ACA because there are problems – insurance companies, drug companies had too much say in writing ACA and we’re paying the price. Mend it don’t end it. Fix the problems.”
Next: New Yorkers Mobilize for Single Payer Health Care
Tom Suozzi’s town hall, his first as the Congressman representing New York’s 3rd District, was Standing Room Only, but he handled it with grace and aplomb, managing to organize what could have been an unruly outpouring of frustration, consternation, anger and anxiety into a productive discussion.
He presented the four key issues he believed most people wanted to discuss – Obamacare (Affordable Care Act), Trump-Putin ties and conflicts of interest, the travel ban, immigration and the environment – then held it up to a vote to ask if that met with approval. Then he picked four or five people to ask questions before moving on to the next topic.
Who wants to stay until 8:30? 9:15? 9:30? All night? 9:30 was the decision.
That’s how it went throughout the night with a return to key points: this is what democracy looks like. Let’s be realistic: I’m a junior Congressman from a minority party. And finally: it is up to you. Your voice. Your activism.
Most ingenious of all: he divided up his 3rd Congressional district into 16 neighborhoods – “The Third Will be Heard” – and tried to recruit people to join committees to stay active – write letters to local newspapers (the media with the most trust, he said), go door to door if necessary, engage in conversations with friends, family and others, instead of that old-saw of politics being a taboo subject.
Whenever someone introduced themselves as an expert – such as the scientist with Feinstein Institute who is a member of a newly formed Science Advocacy of Long Island (who have much to be concerned with as the Trump Administration destroys data on climate change and looks to shut down NASA’s Climate monitoring activities) – he would recruit them onto the committee. The high school fellow too young to vote whose friends are completely apathetic? You’re recruited. Get your friends engaged.
“Take that energy, that excitement and use it in a constructive forum to win the battle,” he said.
With the debate swirling over whether Democrats should be as obstructionist as the Republicans were during Obama’s presidency, Suozzi clearly appreciates that “politics is the art of the possible” (as Hillary Clinton said, much to the consternation of the Bernie Sanders ultra-left progressives who likely were among the 92 million voters who did not come out and vote, handing the reins of power and policy to the exact opposite of Obama/Clinton).
Indeed, Suozzi as Congressman is functioning exactly as he said he would during the campaign: as someone who prefers to find common ground in order to accomplish something.
He told the packed audience that filled the room to capacity that he is a member of a newly formed (can you imagine?) Problem Solvers Caucus, consisting of 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. They are trying to find some consensus on issues such as infrastructure and tax reform (good luck with that).
Interestingly, when Suozzi asked for a show of hands of people who had never been politically engaged before, an estimates 40% of the room raised hands.
Some of the questions and comments were extremely moving: the woman whose husband is being treated, thanks to Obamacare, for cancer “he’s on the verge of being cured, but if Obamacare is repealed, he would have a preexisting condition”; the son whose father has advanced Parkinsons, who lost his job and if Obamacare is repealed, faces the dilemma of providing quality of life for the father or the family.
A woman speaking haltingly because of her disability, fearful of proposals to cut Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and instead to send money to states to use as a block grant, a fear echoed by parents and of siblings of disabled people, who declared “I’m tired of people characterizing us as lazy”.
An immigrant man whose college-age son can’t get an internship because of his status; the woman who migrated from India 28 years ago as a 15 year old, who described the “extreme vetting” then, which has only gotten more intense under Obama; and people who asked what can be done to alleviate the anxiety in their communities over sweeps.
Suozzi noted that as Glen Cove Mayor he fought against having local police become defacto ICE agents because of the importance of the community having trust in its government and law enforcement and the value of “community policing”.
He also acknowledged when someone brought up something that he was not aware of – like the problem with a local pre-school that serves special needs children which has to negotiate individually for grants from state and county government, and has seen only a 2% increase in funding over the last six years.
“The Third Will be Heard”
Suozzi did not disguise the surprise at the turnout, noting that in his years as an elected official (Mayor, Nassau County Supervisor) well accustomed to holding town halls, he has never seen anything like this.
He asked what groups were represented: a number were newly formed in response to Trump’s election including several Indivisible groups, who came with pre-printed signs “Agree”, “Disagree” (an effective mechanism to communicate with the Congressman. Others included Reach Out America, Moveon.Org, Science Advocacy of Long Island, Long Island Together, Every Child Matters, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, 10100, NY Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Campaign, NOW of Nassau-Suffolk, Code Pink Long Island, Long Island OptOut, Huntington Democrats, among others.
One of reasons Democrats lost is because they didn’t mobilize locally, he said, which is why he hopes to try to keep the energy going, and why he kept going back to the need for the people to get the change they want.
He started off with some of his own comments:
Travel Ban? We are less safe, he said, and putting the ramifications of the Muslim ban and curtailment of immigrants and refugees, he said. “There are 80,000 people worldwide in organized terror groups. There are 65 million refugees, due to climate change, civil war, feminism. This is a nation of immigrants, a nation dedicated to two propositions: all men and women are created equal and entitled to respect and dignity.”
The enhanced sweeps of undocumented immigrants (unfurled in a way that shows the lie of only going after the “bad hombres”) “makes us less safe when communities distrust their local police force. People turn to gangs for protection when they are afraid of law enforcement.”
He was asked about the Stop Arming Terrorists Act that Tulsi Gabbard has proposed. “I have to research further,” he said honestly, adding, “It’s true the US funded Osama bin Ladin against the Russians, and Saddam Hussein, and funded the Syrian regime before, and we are still funding the Saudis who fund terror groups. We did it to have access to oil.
“But, for the first time 50 years we are not dependent on oil from the Mideast. This is an opportunity that is not likely to be seized on by the Trump Administration.”
Had Trump not reversed all the Obama policies that bolstered homegrown, clean renewable energy, the US could have said to these dictators, “We don’t want your land your oil. But we need to move more to clean energy to make this happen.” (Trump, in his speech to the CIA the day after the inauguration, as the Women’s March was going past the White House, said that he thought we would have a second chance at taking Iraq’s oil, because he had been taught that “to the victor belongs the spoils.”)
Obamacare: Mend It Don’t End It
On the first topic, Obamacare, a man said he was walking proof of the problems, because his wife suffers from cancer, and over the past two years, one insurance company after another pulled out, until the hospital where his wife was being treated said they would not treat her because there was no carrier in the exchange. Now, his wife has a pre-existing condition.
Suozzi said, “There are problems with ACA. But we need to mend it, not end it.” He said he supported single-payer (essentially Medicare for All), but that wasn’t possible under Obama, who instead bent over backwards, even picking up on the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s model that preserved for-profit health insurance companies as the intermediary for obtaining health care which had been put into place in Massachusetts under Governor Romney. Obama was unable to get a public option. But even after bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, not a single one voted in favor of ACA, but instead, spent six years voting 60 times to repeal it, even forcing a government shut down.
People raised concern about the proposal to tax people differently for health care based on age, not income, a scheme to cut $216 billion in spending ; of capping how much employers give to employees for health insurance which then would be taxed as income.
“It’s time to get out the Uzzi and go after Price [the new Secretary of Health & Human Services, whose 2015 bill repealing Obamacare is the most likely model]. Go after Republicans for raising taxes.”
A young man described how his father had advanced Parkinsons and then was laid off and lost his health insurance. Now he has a pre-existing condition. Repealing Obamacare, he said, “would force our family to choose between my father’s well-being and our family’s.”
Suozzi responded, “This is real life, the devastating effect of repealing Obamacare.”
Turning next to the Trump-Putin and conflicts of interest topic, Suozzi said he would support a bill to require Trump to release his taxes, and would support an independent (not just bipartisan) commission to investigate his ties to Russia and possible collusion of his campaign with Russian agents to swing the election.
“This is why you are so important,” he said. “I don’t want you to understate what you are doing. It’s working. We need reasonable Americans to put country ahead of party. Since McCarthy, Republicans have tried to paint Democrats as unpatriotic. This is a generational opportunity to change that dynamic.”
Travel Ban: Guns Kill, Not Refugees
A man noted that none of the 7 countries under Trump’s ban has had anything to do with terrorism in the US since 1975 (on the other hand, terrorist acts were committed by people from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and none of these were included in the ban), using the premise of public safety. But 34,000 people are killed each year by gun violence.
“Guns kill, not refugees,” a woman said.
Suozzi said that even when he brought together gun rights advocates with gun control advocates, there was general consensus on the need for universal background checks (instead, the Republicans just overturned Obama’s requirement for mentally ill people receiving services from Social Security to be included in the database). The reason there is no commonsense gun regulation is the same that reasonable health care is blocked: moneyed interests. “It’s always about the money.”
But the focus on Trump’s use of fear and under the guise of “national security” push through anti-democratic policies (such as his threat to “send in the feds” to Chicago and use military precision to round up undocumented immigrants with expedited review so that their cases are not properly adjudicated, his attacks on free press and an independent judiciary and reestablish private prisons) prompted a woman to remark, “Be afraid. The America you know won’t exist in 15 years. Republics disappear. Commitment is important. We should be afraid that America will slip away from us, we must persevere.”
This raised the issue of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering and voter suppression. Suozzi confessed his inability to significantly change any of that, but that it is up to the people to get people out to vote, which is another compelling reason for his neighborhood-based activism. He said his office would be engaged in voter registration campaign.
Rachel Carcalelli of Great Neck Plaza, an environmentalist, noted that Superstorm Sandy cost $75 billion. “We need to rebuild infrastructure in sustainable ways – public transportation, water systems, renewable energy, sanitation.”
Instead, Nassau County will see $6.5 million cut in bus service.
In each case, Suozzi went back to his go-to – that people need to stay active and engaged, to join his neighborhood teams in order to spread the word.
Challenged by a Sanders supporter to reject everything the Republicans propose, Suozzi said, “I’ve been in politics 20 years. I won a lot, lost a few. JFK described himself as an idealist without illusions. I’m not a sucker. I still believe in this country, the power of people. Politics is a noble profession. I will remain an idealist as long as I can, but with eyes wide open.”
A woman noted that many in the audience “are new to politics, to this forum” and might be helped to have more realistic expectations of what Suozzi and the Democratic party, being essentially powerless in the House, can achieve.
Indeed, Suozzi offered a dose of reality to many of the speakers, such as when he was asked to solve the eons old problem of campaign finance reform and gerrymandering. “Nice idea but it’s not realistic for junior member in minority party,” he told one speaker. “All the stuff coming over transom – there’s no free time.” He listed what he is engaged in so far: foreign affairs committee, armed services committee,. “I want to focus on important things in the district- the Northport VA, the North Shore plume (the Navy and Grumman are the responsible parties to clean up a 40-year old site estimated at $500 million to clean up); airport noise in northeastern queens, two major research centers (Cold Spring and the Feinstein Institute), a Coast Guard facility. I decided to make the Problem Solvers Caucus one of my big focuses –if I could get Republicans interested in campaign finance reform and gerrymandering.”
The youngest speaker of the evening, Zachary, about seven years old, stood on a chair to say, “Impeach Trump. He’s messed up. How did we get into this mess?”
One of the older speakers of the evening, Harry Arlin, wearing an Army baseball cap, said, “I lived briefly under Hitler, had to run; lived under Mussolini and was incarcerated, then under Stalin and had to flee… Now I am living under Trump. Impeach Trump. I’m too old to run again.”
Though the issue of the alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country since Trump’s election was not specifically raised in this Long Island community with a significant Jewish population, Suozzi acknowledged at one point that the town hall was being held in a Jewish Community Center in Plainview, and JCCs have received over 50 bomb threats in recent weeks.
Suozzi periodically would stop and poll the audience again to get their sense of whether to move on to the next topic. It was remarkable to see how he could actually offer a wide opportunity for people to air grievances, questions, comments in such a large and energized group and have something constructive come out of it: namely, a better understanding of issues and concerns, and also to gauge where constituents are on these key issues.
It wasn’t even close: the 3rd Congressional district wants to retain and improve Obamacare, overturn the travel ban but okay to vet, end the terror and insecurity in immigrant communities and provide a path to some kind of legal status, protect the environment, protect the integrity of the election from foreign influence while protecting the ability of people to cast their ballot.
Gabby Giffords Mocks Republicans Dodging Town Halls
Suozzi’s town hall was very different from what many Republican Congressmen are experiencing around the country – Long Island’s Peter King didn’t even hold one during this President’s Week when traditionally Congress members return to their districts to hear from constituents. Trump and his sycophants have accused those coming out in force to protest the repeal of Obamacare as “paid liberal activists” or, as Trump told CPAC, “the losing side” (neglecting to mention there were 65 million voters, three million more than his side).
And ironically, many of the Republicans are citing fear of their constituents as the reason, prompting Gabby Giffords, who was a Congresswoman until she was shot in the head while holding a public availability at a shopping center in Tucson, to write:
“As a member of Congress, I believed that listening to my constituents was the most basic and core tenet of the job I was hired to do. So I was a little surprised yesterday to hear Congressman Louie Gohmert invoke my shooting as a reason not to face his constituents at a public town hall.
“I was shot on a Saturday morning. By Monday morning my offices were open to the public. Ron Barber – at my side that Saturday, who was shot multiple times, then elected to Congress in my stead – held town halls. It’s what the people deserve in a representative.
“So to Congressman Gohmert and others who are abandoning their civic obligations, I say this: Have a little courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.
“Many of the members of Congress who are refusing to hold town halls and listen to their constituents’ concerns are the very same politicians that have opposed commonsense gun violence prevention policies and have allowed the Washington gun lobby to threaten the safety of law enforcement and everyday citizens in our schools, businesses, places of worship, airports, and movie theaters.
“In the past year, campaigning for gun safety, I have held over 50 public events. And if I am still willing to do it, they should be too.”