It was fitting that Sen. Chuck Grassley’s first town hall during the August recess was in John Wayne’s home town of Winterset, Iowa. Like Wayne’s image in the movies, Grassley wasn’t about to back down or be intimidated by the 300 plus people who showed up for his town hall meeting yesterday morning. Drawing a crowd of 300 people at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday is something not even a top presidential candidate could generate in the quaint town of 4700 people.
The large turnout, in addition to the huge throng of media who were there to cover the event, forced Grassley’s staff to move the event outside to the lawn of the Winterset Public Library. The last minute move meant that there was no sound system until someone provided the Senator with a microphone and small speaker. Grassley even solicited help from a man in the audience to hold his microphone while he jotted people’s questions down on his yellow notepad. Midway through the event, Grassley’s new assistant became responsible for calling on people with questions and then repeating the questions for the audience.
Sen. Grassley addressed his critics head on. He said that some people want him to just get up from the table and walk away, and they would prefer it if he would just sit in his office with his feet up on his desk. Grassley then rightly told the audience that the Democrats have a large enough majority in the Senate to pass a partisan bill without any Republican input. He cautioned that, if he and other Republicans would have just said no and walked away, the bill would have passed in the Senate in June.
Grassley also used the old adage, “If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.” Grassley then added, “Well, I’d rather be something than just the menu.” The only problem with Grassley’s dinner analogy is that it was evident that those who are opposed to the Obama administrations’ health care proposal don’t just want some salt and pepper sprinkled on top of it to help it taste better, they would rather refuse and go hungry.
Another problem with Sen. Grassley’s adage is that everyday, hardworking people don’t feel that they have a voice in the process. Groups like the American Medical Association (AMA) have people representing them. The AMA is supporting the proposal despite a large portion of their membership being opposed. AARP is pushing for a bi-partisan compromise, which means they have a very specific want, and if they get it, they will endorse the plan. Finally, there are our elected leaders like Grassley, who, to be honest, hasn’t let us know specifically what he wants either. What we do know is that he has spent considerable time talking to President Obama and high ranking Democrats on a compromise bill. So who in the entire process is representing the average hard working American? Is anyone listening to them?
Grassley did acknowledge that he understands why those who are opposed to the reform bill might feel that health care reform is a continuation of the Obama administration’s desire to increase control over people’s lives. He referenced the bailout for auto manufacturers, the huge budget deficits created under the new administration, and the cap and trade bill as examples that would lead to that sentiment.
Grassley reminded the crowd that he voted against all of those bills. Later in the day at his Adel town hall meeting, he was asked specifically about his support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) under then President Bush. Grassley said, “Secretary Paulsen lied to us.”
While most news stories will focus on the passionate questions asked of Grassley, the most impressive part of Grassley’s town hall meetings from yesterday was the huge crowds that showed up and the diverse types of people who took the time to attend.
Chad Olsen, a resident of Guthrie Center, attended Grassley’s Panora meeting. Olsen told TheIowaRepublican.com, “What impressed me was seeing so many people that I know, but most of whom have been pretty much politically indifferent in the past. There is a lot of concern about what’s going on, and they are not happy about it. I really can’t impress the point enough; so many “regular” folks showing up in the middle of a very hot afternoon to come to this town hall meeting. Many closed their businesses or got permission to leave work to attend. I saw a lot of small business owners from the county, many of whom must have been closed just to be there.”
Despite the news media’s speculation, those who turned out to these town hall meetings were not organized to do so from various pro-Republican groups. These were local people who were motivated to attend by their own free will. There were a handful of pro-reform individuals in attendance, and it was quite evident that they were there at the behest of an organization.
It’s easy to tell the difference between them. When one woman who identified herself as a “dumb southern Iowa redneck” asked Grassley a question as her entire body was trembling. People with her passion are not paid or prodded to attend events like this to ask questions. They do so because they passionately care about the direction that President Obama and the Democrats are taking this country.
While many people appreciated Grassley’s willingness to come to their town to listen to their concerns over the Obama administrations health care proposal, many had mixed reactions to what Grassley said, like Kendall Cook from Winterset.
Cook’s response to Grassley’s town hall meeting in Winterset sheds some light on to the frustration that many have with Sen. Grassley over health care reform. While Grassley was clear that he didn’t support the Democrats’ bill, he didn’t articulate what a health care reform bill that he could support would look like.
Throughout the hour-long town hall meeting in Winterset, Grassley said he supported the elimination of barriers that prohibits people from buying insurance plans in other states. In addition, he also supports mental health parity, more financial resources for primary care physicians, and he wants to see Medicare reimburse states based on the quality of care they deliver verses the quantity of care delivered.
Most of those items are good things to advocate for, but Grassley failed to tell his audience whether he would support the bill if those things are included. The reason why Grassley is receiving so much pressure from both sides of the debate is because nobody knows what kind of bill he would support.
Grassley owes it to his constituents to clearly annunciate what kind of health care proposal he could support. Would he support an Obama Administration plan so long that it overhauls the Medicare reimbursement system, or is any proposal that includes a government-created entity competing with private insurance companies a deal breaker?
Sen. Grassley deserves a lot of credit for giving his time to meet with those he represents. He handled himself like a true statesman. There is no doubt that, when Sen. Grassley concluded his central Iowa meetings, he left with a better understanding of the angst and anger that many Iowans feel toward the Obama administration’s health care reform package. Let’s hope that Sen. Grassley will extend the same courtesy that was shown to him yesterday and give Iowans a better idea of what type of reform bill he would actually support.
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