New York Congressman Eric Massa, under a barrage of what often seemed like verbal assaults and criticisms from hecklers in the crowd at the first in a series of town hall meetings, seemed to hold his own and remain calm and collected throughout the evening. He never once caved in to the pressure of the verbal assaults or attacking back.
The crowd comments, bordering on abuse, were at times offensive and disrespectful in both their tone and content.
Yet, Massa’s staff says they were civil especially as compared to other similar such meetings that are being held around the country during the month of August where lawmakers who are hosting town hall meetings to debate health care legislative reform have received death threats and crowds who have been overly aggressive in nature in their response to the issue. There are reports that some of these groups like the Tea Party Patriots and others like Rush Limbaugh are behind the scenes fueling some of the animosity that is erupting at some of these meetings
The overflow crowd in Honeoye Falls, New York, on Thursday night of well over 400 people was moved from the original meeting at the Mendon Community Center at 167 Main St to a an outdoor park location a bit further down the road. The meeting was scheduled from 7:30-8:30, but ran well past 9:00pm. Massa was actually still fielding questions well after dark.
The meeting ‘s format allowed those in the audience to raise their hands and be called on by the Congressman with their Health care reform questions.
Massa said of the 1,000 page bill, “I actually have read this bill.” Massa said he wanted to slow things down and talk to his constituents before voting on the bill. If voted on today, he wold vote no for the bill as it stands he said.
At one point a young man in his mid 20s, wearing a baseball hat, stepped up to the microphone and tearfully asked how the government could fund practices like abortion that were “killing babies.” He got a big round of applause from the conservative crowd that seemed to be the majority of those who were there.
Massa said toward the end of the evening, “I ask for many of you to do this; actually read the bill. ask to slow this process down.” People are already accessing these services, just in the least efficient, most expensive way.
He also said later on that “nothing will happen for 4 years if this bill passes.”
When Massa asked toward the meeting’s end how many in the crowd supported the current health care bill, only a handful of people raised their hand, when he asked how many were against it most people there raised their hands in a burst of loud applause.
One person in the crowd asked Massa if he would pledge not to raise taxes. He responded saying he couldn’t do that but that,”I have voted against far more spending than I have voted for.”
“We are borrowing way too much money from our economic enemies, in particular from China.”in regard to escalating national debt.
“We have been talking about health care since 1952. If we cannot reach a consensus and pass this bill, there are still many things we can do to change the system. We can abolish the Donut hole in Medicare Part D, we can force prescription drug companies to lower their prices, we can take away 1.3 billion dollars from the prescription drug companies and don’t pay for TV ads
Dr Jules Zysman, a local physician from Honeoye Falls commented saying in regard to health care reform, ” I hear a lot of fear. Health care reform will actually result in better health care for all. “One of the goals of better health care is to pay physicians and hospitals for doing things well. It’s very positive for me as a physician to see the passion and the energy that is here. All of you who have come out here today deserve credit for caring enough to come out here today.”
Another audience member expressed concern about the United States mimicking health care systems like those currently offered in countries like Canada and England where those countries have lower population numbers. She stated Canada has only 30 million people; here in the United States we have over 300 million and growing. She wondered how the government could manage health care when currently she said when trying to call government run services like Medicare or Social security you can never get through to them.
Massa responded saying ,”No matter what happens, it’s going to have a uniquely American solution for an American problem.”
Audience member Val Brechko of Penn Yan stated , I think we have to have a government option because that’s the only way we’re going to have health insurance. She said afterwards of the crowd’s rude behavior,”they have no apathy for anyone but themselves.”
During a phone interview following the town hall meeting Massa explained further his health care position and why he does not support the current bill now as it stands.
“Right now there is no public option in this bill. In the current bill it demands that the premium for the public option be the same as what people currently pay for private insurance. That’s why the Health Insurance companies are in favor of this bill. I’m in favor of the single payer system( single payer is similar to the current Medicare system where everyone who wants it could be eligible for this type of health coverage)
Massa says that currently there is no public option because the President took single payer off the table because the Health Insurance Industry is against it.”
Massa says one of the most common remarks he hears people say is,” I don’t want the government to do anything with my health insurance. I just want to keep my Medicare. He says what they don’t realize is that Medicare is a government run program.”
Massa will be hosting a series of town hall meetings throughout the month of August with the next one being held Sunday, August 16t
John Ash Community Center
112 N. Barry Street
Olean, NY 14760
The following meetings will be held Wednesday, August 26th
Perinton Community Center
1350 Turk Hill Rd.
Fairport, NY. 14450
Monday August 31st
Big Flats Community Center
476 Maple St.
Big Flats, NY.
Massa strongly encouraged voters to read the 1,000 page bill that he has posted on his website. He intends to continue meeting with voters in the town hall forum setting, and seeks to get their response so that he can bring their concerns back to Washington. His staff member said he will be hosting town meetings throughout the month because Massa is committed to getting direct feedback from voters in the district. He sees that as a critical part of his job.