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Capps’s Town Hall Meeting on Health Care


I think I was inadvertently the head rabble-rouser at the Lois Capps Town Hall last week in Santa Barbara. Let me explain. I’m not part of any group, I’m a lifelong Democrat (voted for McGovern, to carbon-date myself, and then Carter, and then Mondale, and then Dukakis-I have an enviable Democratic pedigree), and I went to the town hall meeting out of civic curiosity (because health care reform is an important issue) but also with a healthy degree of practical skepticism (because health care reform is an important issue); a level of skepticism that any responsible citizen should have when considering a government action of such significant and long-lasting consequence (such as a war or a comprehensive restructuring of the economy, for example).

I left the town hall meeting a supporter of health care reform, but an opponent of HR3200. I became an opponent of HR3200 somewhere between 6:10 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on September 3, due exclusively to the presentation by Lois Capps and the process of its execution: It was an infomercial in Town Hall clothing-scripted, contrived, and controlled.

After a one hour Powerpoint presentation describing all the benefits and dispelling all the myths surrounding HR3200, written questions from the audience were submitted (we all got one card), and then screened and categorized by the League of Women Voters. The selected audience questions were then read aloud by former Mayor Hal Conklin, and the first question he read that night was in fact the question I submitted. It basically posed the question, “What will it cost?”

Lois faithfully repeated what she’d said in the earlier Powerpoint presentation, they helpfully scrolled to the appropriate slide to refresh our audio-visual memory, with the salient sub-bullets highlighted for effect-major increases in efficiency/cost-savings and minor tax increases on hedge-fund managers would render HS3200 revenue-neutral, it wouldn’t cost us a thing.

Well, I’m satisfied”, I thought, “I might as well go home now.” But then I wondered if Lois could reference any government program that had ever achieved cost and operational efficiencies on a scale that HR3200 assumed for its success-certainly not Social Security or Medicare since they would be bankrupt by 2017 (Slide 9 of the handouts said so); not even Cash for Clunkers. Surely there must be some successful government program that would give us confidence that HR3200 would work as promised, otherwise it’s just another government myth at best, or con job at worst. That would be my follow-up question, “Lois, can you give me an example of … ”

One small problem: there were no follow-up questions. (We’d already handed in all of our written questions for screening, sorting, categorizing, and selecting, remember?) There was no point-counterpoint, no parry-riposte-touche, no real exchange of ideas that one expects in a traditional dialog between an informed citizen and citizen’s representative. The democratic give and take took the form of: Lois Capps gives, and we, the citizens take; and then go quietly into the night, thankful to be a small part of the noble process. A process that saw supporters of HR3200 take many opportunities to applaud, stand, and cheer as its benefits were described and various insurance executives vilified; however, it was a process that gave no opportunity for opponents of HR3200 to express their doubt, disbelief, and dismay because that would have been-disruptive. So they sat there with nothing to cheer about, silent, sullen, and steaming. It was at that point that I went from skeptic to opponent.

Near the end, one of the steamers called out, “What’s the hurry?” Lois calmly and solemnly replied, “Because we’ve already waited 60 years.” Her reply was met by a standing ovation (from half the audience). The other half (more of which was left outside due to seating limitations), once again having nothing to stand and cheer about, sat in frustrated silence.

Unfortunately, the cheering drowned out the follow-up question which went unheard, “Then what’s another six months to do it right?”

Opposition to HR3200 is not necessarily opposition to health care reform, in my case it’s simply a Democrat’s opposition to a flawed piece of legislation. Would that Congress had its own Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.” -Tom Strelich

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My husband and myself attended the health care Town Hall meeting yesterday, September 2, with Lois Capps. Both of us were very disappointed that she said single payer is off the table; Congress is pushing, as is our President, for the public option, which we feel does not go far enough. We are the only developed nation which does not have single-payer health care. All of Europe, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have single-payer health care. Right now we have the for-profit health care insurance industry which makes more profits from denying us services. I enjoyed your health care article “Are Primary-Care Physicians Going the Way of the Dodo?” [9/3/09, independent.com/docsout]. I feel that it was very informative. People are so misinformed about health care. In countries like the UK, doctors are given more money if they keep their patients healthy, therefore everyone has routine check-ups and doctors will recommend weight loss if they are too heavy. Here people often go to the hospital when they are very sick because they cannot afford the health insurance. We progressives want the health care insurance companies completely out of the picture of health care. Other people have told me, “Well, they have to wait in England for surgery.” That is correct if it is non-essential such as hip replacements, but that is also true in this country-people have to wait for the insurance companies to authorize it. We the progressives want a not-for-profit health care option and that is single payer. Wake up, Americans: Single payper is the best. Insurance companies: Stick to cars and houses and keep your greedy hands off of my health.-Sue Smiley, Goleta

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453I was at the meeting held by Rep. Lois Capps here in Santa Barbara. I got in line at 4:00 p.m., so I was lucky enough to get in.

As far as organized protesters or supporters, I really didn’t see much of that at all. There were some small groups from Planned Parenthood, etc., but really nothing out of the ordinary. From the voices in the meeting, it appeared the pro-Democratic plan and anti-Democratic plan people were about even.

The meeting itself was designed not to allow any anti-Democratic plan voices to be heard. First, no one could ask a question directly. So, you had no idea of how strongly a questioner felt about the issue, for or against. Second, you had to turn in your question on a card before the meeting started, so no chance for follow-up to your question if you got a tap-dancing type answer. Thirdly, the questions were hand picked (even though I was told it would be random), and the questions asked, with one exception, were all cream puff, pro-Democratic plan questions. One example, “After the bill passes, what is the next step?” For these reasons, the meeting was rigged from beginning to end.

And, there were lots of police on hand to make sure you couldn’t ask your own question or really say anything.

Many people were quite angry toward the end when it dawned on them that no opposing questions were going to be asked. I felt OK about the meeting until I had the same realization.

I should note that I mentioned this rigged nature to the KEYT reporter there and he said, “Don’t think we didn’t notice.”

It was really a complete sham, and a cowardly act by Capps who plainly did not want to hear any opposing views. You could tell that she just did not accept that there could be a legitimate opposing view (polite baloney talk of “let’s all be heard” notwithstanding).

I have always admired Ms. Capps even though I don’t always agree, but my opinion turned 180 degrees after this meeting and it left a very bitter taste in my mouth about politics and “democracy.” Especially having lots of police there to make sure no one could ask what she didn’t want asked or, heaven forbid, be angry with her for trying to shove this bill through in July before anyone had even had a chance to see what was in it.

You could also tell that she no longer has the “citizen legislator” type of outlook anymore. She is pure politics, and you could tell it had gone to her head. She is not the same person I saw maybe four or five years ago.-Mike Cregan

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