McGovern: Can’t Let Bullies Scare Us Off Health Care Reform

Democratic members of Congress have been holding town hall meetings across the country to build support for pending health care reform while on their month-long recess. Angry protesters have interrupted many meetings, booing and jeering the representatives as they attempt to answer questions and explain pending legislation to district members.

And even here in Massachusetts, a heavily Democratic state, representatives such as Congressman Jim McGovern of Worcester have experienced such antipathy at town hall meetings. WBUR's Bob Oakes visited Rep. McGovern at his office to talk with him about the meetings and what he expects Congress to accomplish on health care reform.

Bob Oakes: What was your hope for these meetings? What did you hope to get out of them?

Rep. Jim McGovern: Well, what I was hoping for is just a rational and reasonable discussion about health care reform. This is a big issue. It’s a complicated issue, and impacts every single person in this country.

And what are you getting out of them so far if they’ve been so disruptive?

It’s difficult because some of the people who’ve been trying to disrupt these meetings won’t let anybody talk. I not only got heckled, but some of the questioners who were trying to ask basic questions about, does this plan do ‘x’ or does this do plan ‘y’, were shouted down.

We had a few hundred people show up at UMass Medical School, there was maybe about 30 or 40 of those 300 that were disruptive, but I’m not going to let them keep me away from my constituents, and I sat there and answered questions, I got booed, I got hissed,

you know, I got called all kinds of horrible names, but I was determined to see it through.

Maybe it’s hard to get this given these experiences, but what’s your sense about whether the public is behind health care reform or not?

When I go into a coffee shop or a diner or a senior center here in Worcester, I think most people are on the side of health care reform. They understand that we need to do something and that doing something actually will be to their benefit.

Eventually the summer recess will end, you’ll go back to Washington, and you’ll resume work collectively with your Congressional colleagues on these plans. How’s the recess in your experience this summer, and the experience of many other congressmen around the country who are finding the same kind of thing in public meetings? How’s that going to affect the debate this fall?

Most of us who have encountered these people who have been disruptive recognize what’s happening here. There’s an organized effort out there to try to intimidate people and to try to scare people into believing that health care reform is a bad thing.

Having said that, our job as members of Congress is to do what we think is right for our constituents. We have it within our power right now, within our grasp, to change and reform the system for the better. And my expectation is that when people come back to Washington, we’ll all trade war stories, but at the end of the day I think we need to see beyond that and do what’s right.

But some in Washington, some of your Congressional colleagues who oppose the kinds of reforms that are being talked about, and other lobbyists who are going to be working all of you on Capitol Hill, are going to come back this fall and they’re going to say that these meetings are proof that the country does not want health care reform.

I don’t interpret those meetings as proof that my constituents don’t want health care reform. I look at these meetings for what they are, in some cases, and that is a group of people who’d want to either defend the status quo or just stop any effort at reform and muck up the works.

I know the people that I represent. A lot of these people that showed up, I’ve never seen before. So I don’t interpret this as proof that my constituents don’t want it — I mean every poll that I’ve seen, my constituents want health care reform, the nation wants health care reform.

You sit on the rules committee, which will have the responsibility of melding the competing House proposals over health care. From Jim McGovern’s point of view, what should the priority be when the committee looks at trying to craft one proposal out of the many that it will take a look at?

What I think the primary focus needs to be on is protecting people’s choice; capping costs; making sure people have access to the prescription drugs that they need; I believe in a strong public plan as a way to kind of keep the insurance companies honest in this whole debate; and I believe that there needs to be some peace of mind, which means there needs to be some guarantee that if you have health insurance, you’re going to get covered.

The other thing is, I think there needs to be a heavy emphasis on preventative care. But I also want to make sure that the 45 million Americans who don’t have insurance are covered.

One of the fear phrases that’s tossed about is “socialized medicine.” When that bill is crafted, will opponents be able to look at it and say, “That is socialized medicine”?

No. I mean, look: If I had my way, we’d have a single-payer system. But, I’m not going to get my way and the president doesn’t want a single-payer system and he’s made that crystal clear.

Do you believe the rules committee will come out with a bill?

I do believe we will. Walking away from this debate because you have a bunch of bullies that come in and scream at you would be a huge mistake, I think it’d be a tragedy. This issue’s too important.

Congressman Jim McGovern, thank you very much for speaking with us, good to see you.

Thank you.

This program aired on August 7, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Martha Bebinger

Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



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