EDITORIAL: What Rep. Faso said

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN FASO visited The Columbia Paper a few weeks ago. He was home for a weekend and his staff arranged meetings with local editorial boards. The other half of our editorial board was unavailable, so it was just Rep. Faso and me.

Years before he ran for Congress I offered Mr. Faso space for an occasional column in a now defunct Columbia County newspaper. I welcomed his conservative columns. Then he ran for governor unsuccessfully against Eliot Spitzer.

He’s had more press coverage than most first-term members of Congress. He drew me a graph showing the huge increase in the number of calls his office has received from constituents compared his predecessor, Chris Gibson.

We spoke more than a week before House Republicans voted to adopt the American Health Care Act (AHCA). Mr. Faso said he was part of the Tuesday Group, described in the national media as “moderate Republicans.” I asked if he was saying that he wanted to reform Obamacare rather than eliminate it. He agreed emphatically.

Throughout our 45-minute conversation his statements were consistent with positions he’s taken before and since. He knows policy details and draws on that knowledge to answer questions or, at times, to change the subject.

One of the topics Mr. Faso frequently raises is his co-sponsorship of an amendment to the AHCA bill that would affect only New York State. This state requires counties to pay a portion of the costs for the Medicaid program. This Faso bill would force the state to pick up the whole cost. He believes this would give all of us who pay property taxes a tax break.

But the state would lose $2.3 billion in revenue, and when the state makes up for the shortfall by cutting costs like aid to school districts, guess who will pay for it? The people like us, who pay the property tax. It’s likely to be a cost shift, not a savings.

It’s as if Mr. Faso, the former minority leader of the state Assembly, wants to govern the state from Washington, D.C., when there’s plenty of work for Congress to do governing the nation. He’s right to offer us help, but let it be in support of a thoughtful plan that originates at the state and local level, not mandated by the feds.

This Medicaid scheme may seem trivial considering the challenge of providing affordable health options to the whole country. But you could also see it as a part of a slow-motion assault on Medicaid, with the first step being how AHCA would change to the way Medicaid is funded. After that we’d see cuts in overall support.

This isn’t an abstract issue. Roughly 15,000 people in Columbia County are enrolled in Medicaid–almost one of every four people in this county. More than half of our Medicaid recipients are elderly or disabled. Mr. Faso says money is in the bill to protect these vulnerable people. But based on cuts the AHCA calls for, what’s the evidence that Congress will make Medicaid funding a priority?

My notes reflect a brief discussion of the AHCA ban on funds to reimburse Planned Parenthood for healthcare services rendered. Mr. Faso doesn’t support the ban but said he would vote for the bill that includes it. And that’s how he voted. He also said he expected the Senate would not agree to the ban.

He believes that overall the AHCA, which is more complex than Obamacare, will benefit the public. Politicians have to make those kinds of judgments. But voters expect that those judgments rest on a high moral standard.

So what makes it morally acceptable to vote to deprive women of healthcare services like cancer screening without offering equally accessible alternatives? Is it the assurance that someone else–in this case the Senate–will protect those women from your bad decision?

That suggests a dual standard is at work here. It may help explain why so many of his constituents are eager to talk to him and why they’re upset that he ducks town hall-type meetings in the district.

He and his constituents know such noisy meetings don’t change minds. But he’s missing the value that comes when elected leaders show political spine and a thick skin face to face with the electorate in a public space. Such meetings might remind Mr. Faso that it’s the people who give leaders their power and who, when angered, can take it away. And reassures the public that the right to confront our leaders endures only because it’s a right we are willing to use.

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