August 25, 2009
Ryan finds receptive audience in Kenosha;
his Racine listening session moved to Roma Lodge
The 1st District Congressman has been attracting crowds to his listening sessions on the issue this week; big crowds. Yes, Democrats who support President Obama's health care plan are showing up, but -- if the session in Kenosha this afternoon is any indication -- so are Ryan's supporters.
Ryan noted that his usual listening sessions in Paddock Lake draw fewer than 10 people; today they filled the Village Hall and the overflow was outside, peering in the windows.
At the Kenosha session, held at Gateway Technical College's Madrigrano Auditorium, it was standing-room only. I counted 250 people present 10 minutes before the session began, but by the time Ryan opened the session with a slide presentation the room was filled to overflowing: at least 350, with more than 50 people left standing.
Judging by the applause his remarks and more than two dozen questions from the floor garnered, and the occasional boos, despite Democrats' efforts to show up in force, and the 1st District's swing toward Obama in last November's election, these were mostly Ryan's people.
The crowds he is attracting have forced his staff to find larger venues for upcoming listening sessions. Tomorrow's 3:30 p.m. Janesville meeting has been moved to the large auditorium at Craig High School, 401 South Randall Ave.
Thursday's Racine listening session on health care reform, originally slated for the Great Lakes Room at Gateway Technical College, has been moved to Roma Lodge, 7130 Spring St., still from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Other sessions are listed here. Racine's session is scheduled to last an hour, whereas Kenosha's ran well past 90 minutes.
The first 25 minutes of Tuesday's session in Kenosha were taken up by Ryan's discussion of the faults of Obama's proposal, and the country's already serious financial problems. "Seventeen percent of the entire economy is devoted to health care," he said, and "existing entitlement programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- "are already in debt."
"Will they have to be rationed? Unequivocably, the answer is yes. Inevitably we must ration care on the basis of costs. Massive debt is coming due. Let's fix what's broken in health care," he said. "Let's not break what's working."
It didn't take long for the questioners to show their oppostion to President Obama's proposal, and their support for Ryan's refusal to go along. The second questioner -- keep in mind that few people actually asked questions; most made statements -- said "I've paid into Social Security for 30 years. We should secure that before we start something new."
"I agree," said Ryan.
Another man, who identified himself as a retiree, said "Nobody should expect free insurance in this country." That was met by long applause, as was the next person's statement that he also opposed Obama.
In response to a question about our "elitist" Congress' own health care plan, Ryan said, "If we're going to foist this on everyone, we in Congress ought to be in on it as well." But, he said later, Republicans "don't have enough votes."
A schoolteacher asked what she called a rhetorical question: "We in America believe that everyone deserves a public education. Why would we not believe that everyone deserves health care?" She went on to say that she'd be willing to pay "an extra 1%, 2% or 3%" in taxes to ensure that everyone has coverage.
Ryan responded that "we already spend lots -- $5 trillion; Let's spend that money smarter, without spending more, without the government taking it over." He's willing to impose higher taxes on the wealthy -- "It's OK if it's Aaron Rogers, or Bill Gates," he said, "but the problem is small businessmen." During a discussion on federal borrowing, Ryan said, "Half the federal budget is borrowing." Some Democrats responded with a remark about Iraq, and Ryan's support of war spending, but he said, "The war is a small part of it." (Actually, $902 billion so far, and counting; and the national debt grew by $5 trillion under the Bush presidency.)
In answer to an audience member's statement, "We know your vote," Ryan made it crystal clear: "I am going to vote against this." That earned him more big applause. "My hope is that we scrap this thing and start over," he said.
Ryan said he was willing to look at other countries' plans, while at the same time pointing out flaws in many; England, for example, has a $22,000 limit on end-of-life care, he said. "Switzerland has a pretty good system," His goal is to "give the patient more power; give him more money." And he wants to make sure that pre-existing conditions and the uninsurable are covered, while limiting their out-of-pocket costs. He cited the example of an unnamed employer of 25, one of whom had breast cancer. "Everybody's premium doubled," he said.
"I want to target the subsidies where they ought to go. You can do that without massive new spending. Unfortunately, this is the only idea Congress is paying attention to."
One man said, "Every day I wake up, I feel some of my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is being sucked out of my body."
Ryan spoke about transparency, wanting doctors' and hospitals' costs to be known up-front by patients. "Aurora and St. Catherine's are across the street from each other; what do they charge?" He said they should compete for patients' business on the basis of price and quality.
The session went on for more than the scheduled 90 minutes, from 2:15 to 4 p.m..