Town Hall Roundup, Week 1: Obamacare, Shutdown Threats and Global Warming
Posted at 3:35 p.m. on Aug. 9
It’s August recess, and that can only mean one thing — town hall season has begun!
Each Friday that the House is out of session, we’ll bring you a roundup of the news Republican lawmakers are making across the country at their listening sessions with constituents — and give link love to any of the local newspapers that covered these sessions first-hand.
The first week of the five-week break from legislative business takes us to the Plains, the South and D.C.’s neighboring states for some heated discussions about Obamacare and the viability of a government shutdown.
Based on our tireless Google searches, it seems the majority of town hall news-makers over the past five days were skeptical about whether it’s a good idea to shut down the government at the end of the fiscal year if there’s no agreement to strip funding from the 2010 health law.
In our first stop in North Carolina, GOP Rep. Robert Pittenger was one such skeptic of the tactic that is gaining steam among the more conservative factions of the House and Senate and has the endorsement of tea party activists. At a town hall meeting on Monday, he dismissed the tactic:
“‘Will you vote … to defund Obamacare? Yes or no,’ an audience member asked Pittenger to a round of approving applause.
‘Do you want the thoughtful answer?’ Pittenger replied.
‘I want ‘yes’ or ‘no,” the man in the audience said.
‘No,’ said Pittenger, who went on to explain there was no way such a legislative proposal would ever pass the Democratic-controlled Senate or get signed into law by President Barack Obama.”
His attempt to explain his logic was met with jeers from members of the audience who wanted Pittenger to support sending a “strong statement.”
Constituents of Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., were none too pleased with their congressman’s answer, either, that the leverage tactic wouldn’t bear fruit:
“It comes across as patronizing, that we don’t understand that this one vote is not going to get rid of Obamacare. I understand that,” said constituent Beth Groh, according to an AP report, adding that she only wanted to “draw a line in the sand” with a symbolic vote to force a government shutdown.
Cole, also according to The Associated Press, spent “nearly three hours” making his case against using Obamacare as a bargaining chip for floating the government past the end of September, when current funding expires:
“Look, we all agree on what we’re trying to do. I mean, we all want to see it defunded and don’t want to see it go into effect,” Cole said. “Occasionally people disagree about tactics. Personally, I think shutting down the government is not productive. I don’t think it’s going to work.”
GOP Rep. Frank R. Wolf of Virginia, speaking with members of the Leesburg Daybreak Rotary Club, also said he didn’t support the tactic that could have devastating consequences for Virginians seeking key government services such as veterans’ assistance.
But he said he thinks Obama would gladly welcome a government shutdown that he could blame on Republicans who held out because of Obamacare.
“I believe the president wants us to shut it down. … I think he’ll literally come at us,” said Wolf, according to reporting by the Loudoun Times.
Meanwhile, other Republicans are eyeing using defunding of the law as a condition for raising the debt ceiling — another time-sensitive issue with which lawmakers must grapple when they return to Washington in September.
GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska on Monday told nearly 250 disgruntled town hall attendants that it wouldn’t work, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. Specifically, he said, the strategy would have “‘very significant consequences’ for the country without accomplishing its goal.”
Over in Iowa, Republican Rep. Steve King participated in an Americans for Prosperity town hall event designed to draw contrast between the state’s GOP lawmakers and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who is running for Senate in 2014 to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Though perhaps King’s most notable comments related to global warming — “It is not proven, it’s not science. It’s more of a religion than a science,” he said, according to the Messenger News — he also took the opportunity to address the importance of taking those symbolic votes against Obamacare:
“‘We just have to keep putting that up,’ King said, speaking specifically about a bill passed before the August recess that would remove IRS involvement from the implementation of the health law. ‘You have to — here’s the right thing, here’s the right thing. You put that up over and over again, and then at least the public can see there’s one body that’s moving this country in the right direction.’”
King added that defunding the law “might be the last tool left in our toolbox, so let’s use it.”