East Bay Times: Affordable Care Act town hall reveals how political climate has changed
The line snaked down Escobar Street and hung a left at Pine. It weaved into the Contra Costa County Administration Building, through the lobby and down the hall toward the supervisors’ chamber. There, people stood against the walls and sat on the floor, leaving late arrivals to pile into hallways and anterooms.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, one of four elected officials who participated in Saturday morning’s town hall on protecting the Affordable Care Act, sat at the front of the room in which he once served as a county supervisor.
“I sat for 13 years in this chair,” he told the spillover crowd. “I’ve never seen it even remotely like this.”
That’s life in the current electrified political climate. Standards and norms are being rewritten daily. It wasn’t that long ago when you didn’t necessarily need a hall to have a town hall meeting.
DeSaulnier was joined Saturday by Representatives Mike Thompson, D-Napa, and Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and by State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa. Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, was meeting with constituents in Alameda, and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was holding a town hall meeting in Oakland. Topic A at those events and others: The Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have sworn to dismantle as soon as they can figure out which end of the wrench to use.
“These ACA town halls are going on across the country today,” Thompson said. “Mark’s got two more, I’ve got two more this week, and every time we do one we’re getting these overflow crowds. So standing up, speaking up is so critically important right now. Don’t let it stop when you leave this room today.”
The Martinez event was energizing and enthusiastic, with no shortage of lively banter. DeSaulnier referred to President Trump as Lord Voldemort, eliciting laughs and applause. The only thing missing was a solution to the conundrum.
With a Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress, the Democrats are essentially reduced to playing defense where the ACA is concerned. But you can’t play defense until the other side snaps the ball. And so far, Republicans are still considering their options.
“What we’re hearing from the other side,” McNerney said, “is they want to allow people to do the health savings accounts and the tax cuts. Now, that’s all right if you’re a rich person. But if you’re not a rich person, that doesn’t give you anything. It’s just a transfer of wealth to the already wealthy.”
“The (House Speaker Paul) Ryan idea is to throw it to the free market,” DeSaulnier said. “We listen about free market, or we sit in Congress, do away with Dodd-Frank (regulations). You wonder which planet these people have been at for the last 10, 20, 30 years.”
The irony of the current political climate, with its biting, inflammatory, divisive rhetoric, is that it has awakened people politically. The marches, the protests, the standing up, the speaking up — at this rate, we may see 60 percent turnout for a presidential election in our lifetime.
In the meantime, talk is king, especially where the ACA is concerned.
“(Republicans) had talked themselves into this narrative that the ACA is horrible, there’s death panels, all these things that are not true,” DeSaulnier said. “They never thought they’d be in the position of actually being able to replace it and now they’re running around trying to figure out how do they go to the American public and their constituents and say, ‘We didn’t mean it. We were just working for the pharmaceutical companies.’”
Added Thompson: “It’s a lot like the dog that catches the car.”