EDITORIAL: There’s no plan there

DEMONSTRATORS AT THE COUNTY’S most recent local political demonstration last Saturday, January 28, in the Village of Kinderhook, gathered in front or Congressman John Faso’s district office facing the village green. Unlike the Women’s March in Hudson a week earlier, the weather was gray and chilly and the mood was more somber.

The focus of the event, though not its only purpose, was the ongoing effort by the Republican majority in Congress and the president to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare. There are 16,500 people in the 19th Congressional District who now have health insurance through the ACA. They’re part of about 20 million people nationwide insured because of Obamacare.

GOP leaders in Congress want to get rid of the existing program and then replace it. President Trump, too, has said Obamacare will be replaced with a superior program but there are no specifics yet. So the demonstrators and plenty of others are asking what will happen to the millions of people who now have insurance but won’t be able to afford it if the law is repealed?

Mr. Faso, who was sworn in for his first term a month ago, was not at the gathering by the green. But speakers demanded that he not support repealing the law and criticized him for, among other things, not sharing his schedule with the public. Then, as the demonstration at the green ended, participants walked the short block to the congressman’s home to press their concerns. The number of demonstrators had dwindled by the time Rep. Faso returned home from an event in another part of the 11-county district and he stepped into the middle of the crowd in his front yard.

A video recording of the encounter captures Mr. Faso’s gifts as a politician surrounded with constituents demanding answers from him and not happy with much of what they heard. He remains calm and friendly in the midst of people who are not his supporters and who clamor for him to pay attention to their questions and criticisms. They were at varying moments respectful, insistent, raucous, angry and dismayed. The recording should be required viewing for anyone who wants to know what democracy really looks like.

Will what happens here will have any impact on GOP lawmakers and the president, who are obsessed with destroying Obamacare? The latest poll numbers show that only 14% of Americans want to repeal the ACA before there’s a replacement for it. John Faso knows that the district he represents is. if anything, even more skeptical about the benefits of a hasty end to Obamacare. He understands that New York State would be hit harder than most states if subsidies from Washington for ACA healthcare costs were suddenly withdrawn.

The congressman wants to retain the most popular parts of the ACA, like the requirement that insurance companies cannot refuse to cover someone because of pre-existing medical conditions and the provision that adult children up to the age of 26 can be included on their parents’ policies.

Everybody likes those. But nobody had figured out how to convince insurance companies to offer policies under those conditions until Obamacare did it by requiring Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty. Republicans have always hated that payment part, but they haven’t come up with politically practical ways to get around it.

The ideas floated by the GOP, like health insurance vouchers (they won’t cover the costs) and removing national coverage standards (an invitation to con artists to exploit vulnerable citizens) could spark sufficient voter anger to put Democrats back in power. I applaud Mr. Faso’s willingness to look for a new way to insure everyone. I have no faith that his party’s leaders will support anything that might work. From their public statements, the GOP leaders don’t want the House committee on ACA replacement to succeed. The committee is the leaders’ cynical window dressing for their plan to kill the law.

Congressman Faso is a conservative Republican who takes seriously his responsibility to represent all of his constituents, regardless of our electoral divisions and the turmoil of the times. But he won’t convince his colleagues to reject repeal plans by thoughtful debate.

So he should let his constituents know where he’ll be in the district each week and record their concerns and their passion. The sounds and images might persuade some GOP lawmakers that ACA supporters have learned to use the tactics of the Tea Party activists who put the GOP in power.

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