Reprinted with permission from the Times Union
TROY – At his first in-person town hall meeting since taking office in January, Congressman John Faso (R-19th) defended his vote on the Republicans’ failed health care bill before a crowd that wanted reassurance their access to health care would remain intact and affordable.
Dozens of protesters showed up to the event on April 13, lining the street outside WMHT headquarters in Troy with signs and chants expressing disapproval for the congressman’s recent vote. As the town hall broadcast on New York NOW got under way, Mr. Faso held firm, saying he supported the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, after hearing from constituents whose health care costs have soared.
“My approach with the ACA is keep what works and fix what doesn’t,” the Kinderhook Republican said.
It hasn’t worked for individuals who are unable to secure insurance through their employer, he said, and it hasn’t worked for small businesses whose premiums have skyrocketed in the seven years since the plan was implemented.
One such business owner in the audience said his small Schaghticoke business that employs eight has seen its health insurance costs climb 81 percent since 2010.
“Examples like yours are ones I’ve heard throughout the district,” Mr. Faso said.
Protesters outside said they were upset that Faso promised not to defund Planned Parenthood, but then voted for a Republican health care bill that would have defunded the women’s health care organization.
“I met with him personally, and he said he knew the damage defunding Planned Parenthood would have on rural areas of the state,” said Chelly Hegan, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood’s Upper Hudson branch, who joined the protest outside. “So we are never really at rest. We are always under the gun from those on the fringe radical right.”
Roughly 80 constituents attended the town hall after applying for a seat through an online invitation. Protesters outside complained that the congressman didn’t seem interested in a town hall event that’s open to everyone.
“An invite-only town hall is not a real town hall,” said Janet O’Brien-Aram, of Brunswick, who works with the grass-roots group Capital Women.
A Faso spokeswoman said the congressman has participated in a telephone town hall and meets with between 20 and 30 constituents a day. Mr. Faso himself said the smaller town hall event was a better way to represent and respond to voters in his district, giving him time to hear and answer questions thoroughly without being shouted down by a large crowd of protesters.
In addition to health care, the audience Thursday wanted to know where their new representative stood on issues like immigration, infrastructure, foreign policy and climate change.
Mr. Faso expressed sympathy for local dairy farmers and Hudson Valley apple growers who rely on immigrant labor to maintain their operations. He said he supports “normalization of status for people who came into the country illegally so long as they haven’t violated the law.”
He said he’s opposed to the U.S. sending ground troops into Syria and said any attempts to do so would need Congressional approval. He voiced support for the FBI investigation into claims Russia tried to influence the U.S. election, especially since “it’s very obvious” they are attempting to influence French and German elections.
Some people in the television studio wondered aloud if Faso’s health care vote was a sign of failed promises to come. Would he cast independent votes going forward or toe the party line, they asked.
“I’m not an automatic party line vote by any means,” he said. “I’ll tell you this. I’m a fiscal conservative and a pragmatic individual who wants to solve problems in Congress.”
To contact reporter Bethany Bump email