Unlike many of his House and Senate colleagues, Congressman Tom Reed (R, N.Y. 23rd) did not shy away from the public and their concerns and criticisms by cancelling or ducking out the back door of town hall meetings. Appearing Saturday, March 11 in four Finger Lakes communities — Ithaca, Ovid, Manchester, and Pulteney — Reed faced angry constituents in each.
In his final stop of the day in the smallest of the four, Reed faced over 200 mostly senior citizens. Many came to voice their opposition to the current Republican plan moving forward with the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Reed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as “Obamacare,” and the defunding of Planned Parenthood women’s health programs.
The people asked Reed if he planned to give up his congressional health insurance coverage and participate in what is already being called “Trumpcare” by many. Reed replied that his coverage is similar to that of U.S. Postal workers and other federal employees.
Questioning why Reed doesn’t support a single-payer system, Joanna Purdy of Penn Yan stated that she had lived in Australia, New Zealand, and northern Europe “where 100 percent of the people are covered 100 percent, and it works, and they can choose their doctors!” Purdy added that the U.S. is the only one of the developed nations on Earth that doesn’t provide universal healthcare to its people. This was met with great applause. When asked repeatedly by others why his doesn’t support single-payer healthcare, Reed replied, “I think we can do better as Americans,” and it gives the government too much control.
Reed says he thinks “The best government is the government closest to the people,” and that health care should be decided by the states with limited support from the federal government by block grants in four categories: individuals, children, the disabled, and the elderly. People then confronted him with the disparity of state economies, and that poorer states rely on wealthier states to feed the federal system to offer care to citizens.
Responding to a man with disabilities who says he relies upon Social Security benefits, Reed stated he would stand by and advocate for the disabled, but there would be consequences to raising the social security wage cap, seen in the benefit payments and tax adjustments.
Becky Bloomquist-Holder, daughter of the late local health champion Milly Bloomquist, said older Americans will be expected to pay five times what younger citizens pay, for the same coverage. Reed acknowledged that will be true in some states, but that in New York the ratio is one to one. People stated there should be a guaranteed minimum level of coverage in all states.
Reed discussed the burden placed on local property taxes by the funding of Medicare. While he is critical of the system, he says it is Albany’s decision, not Washington’s. He would like to see it rescinded for the counties and be funded by the state. He also states his support for the “Bernie (Sanders) Bill” that would allow Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate with pharmaceutical firms for lower drug prices the way foreign governments do. But he was also confronted by the reported $400 to $600 million in tax breaks for top insurance company executives over 10 years proposed in the Republican plan. He was further challenged by a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that an estimated 14 to 15 million American’s will lose their insurance coverage if the “Repeal and Replace Plan” is enacted. Another report issued by the CBO Monday upped that number to 24 million who would lose coverage over the next decade under the proposed plan.
Other topics Reed was confronted with include:
• Farm labor: Art Hunt of Hunt Country Vineyards in Branchport stated that he and the owners of 30 other wineries in the region want to meet with Reed and other congressmen to solve the agricultural labor problem in the face of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants. Hunt says the guest workers are reliable and respectful, and excluding them would devastate the industry as wineries cannot find citizens willing to do the work. A Reed supporter shouted out, “Why don’t you pay them more?” Hunt replied that he pays $11.20 per hour and the guest workers earn $20 per hour going by piecework, but he can’t get Americans to show up reliably or work as hard.
• EPA: Jim Crevelling of Bluff Point warned, “You cannot gut the EPA!” and cited the disaster of Love Canal here in New York that would be repeated. Reed admitted he differs from many Republican congressmen in his belief in human causes of climate change and his support for renewable energy. “I am the ‘solar Republican’ in Washington,” says Reed.
• Refugees: A Branchport resident told Rep. Tom Reed that he emigrated to the U.S. 18 years ago, but that in the 6 weeks since Trump’s inauguration, “I have seen how one person can destroy the good nature of a good people.” He also said, “The demonization of minorities is not going to solve anything,” and added that because the U.S. and Britain began the wars that led to the recent rise in Islamic extremism, we should accept the Syrian refugees who are now the victims of it.