Congressman Walz held his one and only town hall meeting tonight. As much as I dislike both the man and his politics, I have to give him credit for doing two things that President Obama has been unable to do.
First, participants were let in on a first come first served basis. Although I saw more SEIU t-shirts up front than in the back, it appears as though they just got there earlier. Second, there was no screening or moderating of the questions. Anyone could get in line and ask what they wished.
The first question was about tort reform, and Walz was resoundingly booed when he stated that tort reform will do little or no good to help the health insurance industry. He quickly passed the question to his panel of experts. The asking of the question and the answer took 10 minutes by my watch, meaning that after the preliminaries, introductions and pledge of allegiance, the second question didn't start until 6:41 in an event scheduled from 6:00 to 8:00.
Questionable statements by Congressman Walz soon followed, such as his assertion that he actively pushed for holding off on voting on the bill until after the August recess so that they would have more time to consider the bill. If that is true, why did he only hold a town hall meeting after being criticized by several local papers? Next was his refusal to answer whether he supported the public option. Despite speaking in favor of it later in the evening, he claimed to be undecided as of now.
The fourth question departed from health care to ask about cap and trade. The boos were loudest here, as Congressman Walz tried to spin his vote into creating jobs. Significantly, he mentioned the CBO estimated costs from cap and trade, and the crowd overwhelmingly booed. His response was that 'if you don't accept the CBO estimate on cap and trade, then you can't cite it on health care'. This seemed to be a peremptory attack on the cost of health care reform, which he addressed later.
The next question was from a man who opened up his pocket copy of the constitution and made the point that no where in Article 1, section 8 does Congress have the authority for bailouts, buying GM, or Obamacare. Walz responded that if that logic is used, then the Congress has no authority to fund the VA or Medicare. Somehow I think the Founding Fathers would have felt it their duty to care for veterans of the Revolutionary War, yet they would be rolling over in their graves at the though of universal healthcare funded by tax dollars.
In response to the next two questions, Walz made direct statements that may come back to haunt him. He stated that taxpayer funded abortions are not in the bill, he would not vote for a bill that funded abortions, and that DC (Congress) would never put forth a bill that included funding abortions. Even if he truly believes this, the last minute changes we saw in the stimulus bill could easily happen in the health care bill. Walz is now on the record as saying he will not vote for any bill that funds abortion.
He also stated (boos again) that HR 3200 is currently revenue neutral, and he would not vote for it unless it stays that way. He didn't explain how a bill that CBO says will cost 1.6 trillion over 10 years is revenue neutral, but is again on the record. If he votes for the bill and it is not clearly shown to have no effect on the national debt, then he broke his word.
One questioner told Walz bluntly (to heavy applause) that he doesn't support the public option because 'I just don't trust you". He brought up that Social Security is failing, Medicare is way more expensive than promised, and he doesn't trust Congress to implement universal health care when it can't even run the programs we already have.
The most impressive questioner of the night was a young woman who said she is a student at Bethany-Lutheran college. She said she had spent the last few months trying to read the bill, and cited specific sections that troubled her. Congressman Walz responded, but when the young woman restated her question in more specific terms, the moderator tried to move on, saying that the young woman had already been heard and answered. The crowd roared with disapproval, and shouts of 'let her speak' came from all corners of the room. She asked her question again, and got a glib answer from Congressman Walz that didn't address her specific question.
The event ended before my turn came to ask a question, but I would have asked about some contradictions in Walz's statements. For instance, he opened the event by saying that there are actually three versions of the bill in the House and one in the Senate, so there might be differing claims of what was included in the bill. He later said that we can't know with any certainty what will be in the final version of the bill.
But he stated unequivocally that taxpayer funded abortion wont be in the bill, and that it will be revenue neutral. How can he be sure of what wont be in the final bill if he can't be sure of what will be in the final bill?