A coalition of progressive organizations in Southeast Pennsylvania hosted a forum in Philadelphia Wednesday night to find out where their Democratic Congress members stand on health care, climate change and other issues.
The roughly 100 attendees learned there’s no consensus on how best to tackle these things, even among Democrats — and the event underscored the tension between the progressive and moderate wings of the party.
The forum was hosted by Individual Project chapters from across Southeast Pennsylvania along with other progressive organizations at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in Philadelphia.
They invited U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County, U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Chester County, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia, and U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County. A representative of U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia office was also in attendance.
Medicare for All
U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, introduced the latest iteration of the bill to create a single-payer health care system earlier this year. Jayapal’s bill proposes to expand coverage, including long-term care for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Attendees showed their support at the forum by carrying signs and wearing pins and T-shirts that called for passage of “Medicare for All,” but the majority of the lawmakers were quick to lay out concerns.
The 2019 bill calls for the federal government to replace the current health care system within two years. That’s two years before the deadline proposed by presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.
That’s the main reason Evans hasn’t co-sponsored the 2019 bill, despite the fact he supported its previous iteration in Congress, his representative said. However, Evans is part of the Medicare for All caucus.
Several of the lawmakers also expressed concern about what the public actually wants when they express support for Medicare for All.
“Some people mean absolutely just a single-payer system and private coverage is outlawed,” said Scanlon. “Some people mean expanding Medicare so it’s available for everyone who wants it, but I can also keep some form of private insurance.”
As it stands, the Jayapal bill wouldn’t allow private insurers to sell plans that “duplicate the benefits” of Medicare for All. They would be allowed to sell plans with additional benefits not covered by the new system. The same applies to employers.
Dean said she’s skeptical of abolishing private insurance.
Instead, she proposed expanding Medicare coverage by lowering the age of enrollment and giving people the choice to sign up.
“For folks my age, for folks 50 and above, give them the option,” Dean said to a chorus of boos from the audience.
She said she didn’t see how a ban on private and employer-based insurance could result in satisfactory care.
“I don’t know how many people in here actually have employer-based coverage, but I think Americans want greater coverage and full choices,” she said. “They want it affordable, they want choice, they want coverage.”
Houlahan also backed an incremental approach. After all, the Affordable Care Act is still under attack from Republicans who want to abolish it, she said.
“After protecting and defending the Affordable Care Act, providing a public option that rides alongside the existing private options that we already have that, in some cases, are not working or in some cases have not enough competition,” she said.
If the public option is competitive enough, it will eventually become the rule of the land, said Houlahan.
Only Boyle has signed on as a co-sponsor for Medicare for All. When he reminded the crowd, they broke into applause.
Climate change and the Green New Deal
The nonbinding resolution introduced by freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls for global net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the creation of “good, high-wage jobs in the United States,” and making a shift to 100 percent renewable energy.
Evans’ stand-in said the congressman agrees with the components of the resolution, but didn’t sign it because he felt the elements needed to be treated separately and go through a committee process.
Scanlon said she is interested in switching to renewable energy.
“But with that, I need to bring along the folks in my district — many of whom depend upon jobs which are not currently in the renewable energy sphere,” she said.
Dean and Houlahan said they support what the Green New Deal resolution is trying to do, but said it’s ultimately an “aspirational” document.
“Because we don’t have any more time to aspire to things … so nonbinding resolutions, we don’t have time for,” Houlahan said. “We need binding law that does something.”
Instead, Houlahan said she’s backing a bill she thinks will have a better chance in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Climate Solutions Act calls for the country to move toward 100% renewable energy by 2035.
Dean, Scanlon, Evans, and Boyle all support the Climate Action Now Act, which would require the U.S. to meet its commitment to the Paris agreement.
Boyle was the only one in the group who co-sponsored the Green New Deal.
Voters also wanted to know, in light of the release of the redacted Mueller report, if their congressional representatives thought impeachment hearings should begin.
Their response? Not just yet.
“There are more questions than we have answers,” said Houlahan.
She and her colleagues said the next step is for the House to exercise its oversight powers.
Dean, a House Judiciary Committee member, said the committee has issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for an unredacted copy of the entire report and all of its supporting documents.
She said the committee’s job was to get the full story and give that to the American people.
“We will get the truth, and impeachment is probably down the road,” Dean said.