Congressman Doug LaMalfa ran into a buzz saw of criticism at a highly anticipated town hall meeting in Grass Valley Saturday.
One would expect a more welcome reception for a congressman who easily cake-walks to re-election. But despite the proximity of Beale Air Force base and the many armed forces retirees in the region, friendly faces were few and far between.
Instead, the drama playing out in Washington over deep cuts proposed for everything from health care and meals on wheels to environmental protections, education and public lands, appeared to energize a sharp reaction.
Nevada County resident Mindy Oberne said that if Congress were serious about containing health care costs, they would cut out the middlemen.
“If there’s a problem with the insurance rates still going up, it’s because the health insurance companies are still in control,” Oberne said.
Others, like Corrine Jones of Grass Valley, said political leaders ignore Americans real struggles and instead debate symbolism and orthodoxy. She praised a federally funded safe house that sheltered her during a contentious divorce. Despite holding jobs her entire life, Jones said she nevertheless receives subsidized housing, MediCal and food stamps. She said the Trump budget would force real hardship on those already tenuously holding on.
“Please take that back with you and explain to the people in Washington,” Jones said. “We need you to represent us and do what’s right, and quit walking the freakin’ party line!”
But the biggest concern among the 2,000 gathered Saturday was health care.
A woman who did not identify herself urged LaMalfa to reject the current version of the Republican bill that would replace the Affordable Care Act.
“I will not be able to afford insurance from what I’ve read so far,” she said. “I am 57 years old. I would have to sell my house.”
LaMalfa responded, trying to mollify the crowd with a line popularized by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The audience was having none of it.
“We have to have a system that offers more choices, and you’re having less and less choices for what your insurance is going to be,” he said.
While LaMalfa tried soothing the audience, saying the bill could be revised, the crowd, only grew more restive.
If conservative think tanks have framed health care as a philosophical line against government dependency, many at the town hall, including Oroville resident Stan Bunstock injected his personal reality.
“I would have died,” Bunstock said. “I would have lost everything. I had esophageal cancer. Thank God for the Affordable Care Act. What are we going to do, Doug, to take care of the people? It can’t be what you’re saying! The ‘un-American wealth-care act’ does not work!”
Concluding that funding issues with Social Security and Medicare as proof that a single-payer system couldn’t work, LaMalfa seemed to inch away from the current Republican health bill, saying he was concerned about the impacts on older Americans. He tried, with limited success, to cajole the crowd, referencing the villain in the 1987 film “The Princess Bride.”
“I’m not the six-fingered man, OK?” he said. “So, that said, we want to get a program that will work for you, and it’s very difficult. Because, what we see with the collapsing of the ACA in just a few short years, is that it will not pay for itself. It will not sustain itself.”
LaMalfa said he was trying to arrange another town hall meeting, elsewhere in the district, in April.