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    Cong. Rick Larsen confronts anger at a town hall meeting on healthcare

    The hostility is out there, but so are the supporters for reform. Larsen appeals to 'Northwestern civility' in one crowded session in Skagit County.
    Polls show Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen now leading Republican challenger John Koster

    Polls show Democratic Congressman Rick Larsen now leading Republican challenger John Koster

    Healthcare has become a contact sport for members of Congress home for the August recess, and Rep. Rick Larsen, the Everett Democrat representing Northwest Washington's Second District, was banged around a bit during a trio of meetings in his district over the weekend. But Larsen isn't headed for the disabled list, and in the end his plea for "Northwestern Civility" basically carried the day with an overflow crowd in Mount Vernon on Saturday.

    The predictable fears and rumors were out in force, but countered by at least as many supporters of healthcare reform, judging by banners and signs, and reaction to polemics. The Skagit Valley P.U.D. hall's 250-seat capacity was taken half an hour before the 2 pm forum and another 300 or so waited outside as Larsen moved his town hall microphone inside and outside the building for two and a half hours, well beyond the advertised one hour.

    Skagit is a county that can go for either party, but Larsen has done well in Skagit since establishing himself in 2000 and 2002 in close elections. The county is less urban than Snohomish or Whatcom, with both farming and timber as important industries.

    Larsen had been prepared for hostile crowds, part of a national trend to make this August hot for Democrats, with at least some of the protests orchestrated by Republicans and their allies on the talk-show circuit. He met anger at Oak Harbor Thursday, when a veterans' town hall was quickly taken over by healthcare protesters, and again that evening in Coupville, with more heated objections to Democratic proposals.

    In Mount Vernon, with a much larger crowd, many of whom has been standing in line for an hour to get a seat, Larsen called for civility and for the most part got it. When near the end of the ordeal a man called him "slimy, lying and snakey," the congressman gently told him to give up the microphone, remarking that as one of eight children he'd been called worse names. By the time the afternoon ended, the audience was drifting off as questioners began dwelling on personal stories and the worst of the anger seemed calmed if not satisfied.

    I spent the afternoon with the crowd outside the hall, which seemed evenly split between loud protesters and quieter but no less numerous supporters of single-payer and public-option reform. The shouters got their say, at times damaging the cause of concerned but modulated folks who pointed out specific problems with Democratic proposals, or asked Larsen for information, which he seemed eager to share.

    At least at this meeting, the loudest protests were primarily a fear of socialism, a belief that government could not run healthcare efficiently, anger at Congress in general, and satisfaction with private insurance. There were no charges that "granny" would be euthanized, although one critic expressed fear that the United Nations would take over the program. Supporters of healthcare reform cited the high number of people with no insurance, defended the efficiency of Social Security and Medicare, and criticized the cost and inefficiency of private insurance.

    If Mount Vernon is representative of other Washington communities, the climate may be similar to a nationwide environment dominated by extremely vocal and combative opposition to Democratic reforms, countered by a less-vocal but very large cohort of people demanding some variety of reform. At Mount Vernon, the latter group ranged from single-payer advocates to people simply demanding something better than the current system. With Congress yet to come up with a final proposal for the public to debate, the ground favors opponents who can point to any imaginable evil that could be presented, while supporters are left defending a vague set of principles but without specific language.

    Larsen is a centrist Democrat who voted with his party's majority 98.6 percent of the time this year, according to The Washington Post. He insists he has yet to decide his vote on a future healthcare bill, although he described enough problems with the present system as "unacceptable" that it would be surprising if he did not support some form of healthcare this fall. Larsen stated that the costs of the present system are hurting small businesses and families without health insurance or jobs, and there is unacceptable discrimination, particularly against those with pre-existing conditions. He reiterated a position against a single-payer system, which many in the crowd supported with signs, but spoke more favorably of a public-option insurance plan.

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    Posted Mon, Aug 10, 7:48 a.m. Inappropriate

    I've read and watched reports of several of the meetings and the screamers don't look interested in any kind of democratic discourse or reasoned discussion of the issue. Quite the opposite--they seem intent on stopping any debate on it at all. The bill isn't even complete, they are operating under blatantly false assumptions and yet they are willing to take these half-formed, malformed "opinions" sauced with paranoia and use them as the excuse for making death threats?
    "Health care debate degenerates into brawls, death threats"


    What I don't understand is how these violent tactics are being tolerated? During the previous presidential administration security at town hall meetings would regularly eject and deny entry to people for simply wearing a t-shirt or having the "wrong" license plate. How is it that these thugs clearly intent on intimidation are being allowed at town hall meetings?

    They may chant "Free Speech", but it sounds more like "Free to Screech" to me.

    Posted Mon, Aug 10, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    Right, as you said...The bill isn't even complete. So why the hurry to vote on it? Will they even bother to get a good handle on it and read it within the time frame they wish to have it voted on? Sound like the cart before the horse to me. I am very suspicious of it all and I don't like it as it smells.
    I just love the fact that the world’s most famous community organizer is whining about community organizing. Go figure..


    Posted Mon, Aug 10, 12:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's too bad thoughtful questions like yours couldn't be heard at the town hall meetings disrupted by the screamers. If more people worked to provide thoughtful analysis instead of actively preventing it, then we could actually make some headway on this issue.

    Your suspicion is understandable, after all we don't want another trillion dollar corporate giveaway like Bush's prescription drug boondoggle, however your desire to delay is not. For the 18,000 Americans who will die every year simply because they don't have health insurance, the matter is extremely urgent. Every hour spent screaming and delaying means more lives lost, more money wasted on CEO gold parachutes and gold toilets, more deterioration in the already tenuous position of our workforce.

    The National Academies Institute of Medicine: "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unneccesary deaths every year in the United States" (as of 2003)

    USA Today article:

    As a nation we've been knocking on this door for over sixty years. It's far past time to open it up and join the rest of the civilized world.

    Posted Mon, Aug 10, 1:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    All these people who are afraid of socialism and think U.S. Democrats and President Obama are socialists in disguise: it's profoundly offensive. As someone who lived under an *actual* socialist government in Europe in the 1980s, I am offended that such Americans so flippantly and ignorantly make childish comparisons between socialism and Democrats. It's disgusting and insulting, surpassed only when people who apparently have no idea what the Holocaust was compare Mr. Obama to a Nazi.

    I would also remind such Americans that in Germany even the CDU party, a *Christian* party and Germany's center/right version the U.S. Republican party, are all on board with the national health care thing. It was Bismarck himself, a staunch conservative, who came up with national health care in Germany in the first place.

    National health care is better for business, it's better from a Christian perspective: it should a *Republican* initiative to set up national health care.

    I just cannot understand this opposition and fear to something that conservatives in every other industrialized nation have embraced.


    Posted Mon, Aug 10, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    There was also this article someone sent me a link to today:


    The piece is about a 38-year-old "Teabagger" who showed up at a town hall protest to shout down any talk of reform, got hurt in a scuffle with some union guys, and now is looking for donations to help him pay for his medical bills because--yep--he doesn't have health insurance.

    I mean, come on.


    Posted Mon, Aug 10, 6:44 p.m. Inappropriate

    I found this helpful and it sent me to googling deeper into "margins" and "marginal." And to pondering why economists don't run for office.

    "As In The Case Of Supply-Side Economics, Real Health Reform Happens At Margins
    By DWIGHT R. LEE | Posted Friday, August 07, 2009 4:20 PM PT IBD
    Supply-side economics improved productivity because it recognized the distinction between marginal and average tax rates.

    Government expansion of the medical system has increased health care costs because it has ignored the distinction between marginal and average costs of health care...."

    whole article at


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