We missed you last night at the packed town hall meeting at the Unitarian Church. In case you have not heard, even the overflow area was overflowing, as more than 1,200 of our neighbors came out to speak to you. I guess that you were trying to avoid the kind of confrontations I experienced in 2010 as protesters were actually brought to my office in busses sponsored by American Crossroads, and the goal was to shut down dialogue. But this was not that kind of event, and I am really sorry that you were not able to attend.
I know that you have been in office for a long time, and that like all office holders, have an ego, and a belief that you know and understand the issues, but the reality is, all of us, Members of Congress included, have a lot to learn. Perhaps I should have said Members of Congress, in particular, have a lot to learn, and at town halls like this one, that’s what would have happened.
If you had been with us, you would have heard the true, heartfelt, sometimes heartwrenching stories from your constituents. They did not come to shout at you, they wanted you to hear them.
You and I know that Washington D.C. can be one huge bubble, insulating Members of Congress from the rest of the country. Every Member of Congress is treated like a Very Important Person, and at every turn there are lobbyists who are paid to tell you what to believe. Those beliefs are often reinforced inside your caucus, and then no doubt they were amplified last night by the attention that Republican donors gave you at the fundraiser (in another Congressional District), that you chose to attend instead of the town hall.
But if you had been with us, you would have heard the true, heartfelt, sometimes heartwrenching stories from your constituents. They did not come to shout at you, they wanted you to hear them; they made a huge effort to communicate their hopes and fears around health care. Would it have always been comfortable for you? Probably not. It would be hard to hear from a man who lost his job and his health care and was unable to buy an individual plan because he was priced out of that vaunted free-market — until the Affordable Care Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions. It could be difficult to listen to testimony from one who experienced huge price increases in his insurance pre-ACA, which he no longer has to contend with now that he has so-called Obama-care. Their testimony goes against the accepted “wisdom” about the ACA and the insurance marketplace.
You may have been uneasy listening to a woman who has health care now, only because the Affordable Care Act mandated that her large employer offer coverage, knowing that members of your caucus want to end those mandates. Maybe your heart would have been touched listening to a young woman who had had childhood leukemia and is able to stay in remission and pay for her ongoing prescription medications because she can now buy health insurance through the ACA exchange with a subsidy. She very much wants to have childlren and fears that without the Affordable Care Act she may not be around for them, or be able to afford to have them. It would not feel good to sit there listening to her as she choked up, knowing that one of the Republican plans is to collapse that very marketplace and its subsidies that have kept her insured and healthy.
I know you have triplets that you love very much, and Mitch, the dad with his three children with serious chronic illnesses such as arthritis and juvenile diabetes may have given you pause to reflect on how lucky you and your family are with the health care that your employer, our government, provides. You have met Mitch. He had visited your D.C. office in the past and you promised to remember his kids. He is worried you have forgotten them.
People say you are angry and resentful over the town halls and constituent visits. You shouldn’t be.
You would have come face to face with these and other real people with real struggles, those of the young, those of the elderly, those of the small business person, those of poor, who passionately care about their families, their health and the future of the ACA. It would have been enlightening and given you insight not readily available in the halls of Congress, and information that a true representative (your actual title) needs to have when making these momentous changes. In order to represent, you need to listen to your constituents whether they vote in a Republican primary or not. People say you are angry and resentful over the town halls and constituent visits. You shouldn’t be. It’s what you signed on for those many years ago when you first ran for this position of trust, and it is part of your duty as one holding that office.
Perhaps there will be another town hall and you will attend it. Even if you don’t, your constituents will continue to try to communicate with you via their emails, their postcards, and their drop-ins to your office. They are of necessity determined to persist, and persist they shall. I hope that you will find it in your heart to listen to them and then find the courage to do what would be a lot harder than attending an uncomfortable town hall. Find the courage to vote their concerns and protect their health.