A mere 15 nautical miles separate Seattle and Bremerton, but the town halls hosted by Congressional Representatives Jim McDermott here and Norm Dicks there could not have been more different. Nearly everyone sat quietly through most of McDermott's presentation, which pushed for a public option, basically a government-backed health insurance program that would compete with private insurers. McD plans to pay for the whole thing through new taxes on businesses that don't provide health coverage and high income families.
No hostile town hall here. McDermott gets a standing ovation.
All that talk of government health care and new taxes and you'd think McDermott would be getting nothing but shouts of "Commie!" through the entire presentation and later question and answer period. But no.
There were a couple of people who came with simmering anger, but most were polite members of the liberal left who were more concerned that McDermott wasn't socialist enough (a.k.a. still holding out for a single-payer system).
That led to exchanges like this:
McDermott: "I gotta figure out what you want me to represent for you."
Random crowd member: "Single-payer!"On immigration:
Woman: What about immigrants?
McDermott: "I'm in favor of covering anybody who is legally in the United States."
McDermott went on to say he thought immigration reform needed to make it easier to legally work here. Rather than "illegal alien" verbiage, he talked about people taking advantage of those who did not come to the U.S. through legal channels and now work at the mercy of their employer. The prospect of making it easier for people to be here and receiving medical care also earned clapping.
On those death panels:
Woman in gray bob: "You mentioned cost controls and my questions is, would some of those cost controls be at the expense of the elderly by denying care for them based on their age?"
Politely raising hands to ask questions.
Crowd (gently and reassuringly): "No. No, no."
McDermott: "Well that's the politest way I can imagine that subject coming up and only in the polite Northwest."
On the very rare negative outburst:
McDermott: "... Medicare."
Guy at the back of the room: "Bankrupt!"
On potentially getting that public option:
Members of the SEIU give McDermott scrubs on which are written horry stories from nurses and other health care workers who work with the uninsured or underinsured.
McDermott: "I think that the forces that were against it are losing steam, I mean they were all over the place yelling and screaming earlier in the month. You don't hear 'em so much anymore." (Clearly he hasn't been to Bremerton lately.)
You eventually had to wonder if the Norm Dickses of the world were watching, downing a beer every time the crowd cheered for more government intervention, especially when it ended:
McDermott: "Thank you very much."
Crowd: (Standing) "Whooooooo!"