During Senator Tom Cotton's town hall meeting on Wednesday, one of his constituents made a powerful statement with a simple question.
Microphone in hand, the woman turned to the audience of more than 1,000 people and asked anyone who had been affected by the Affordable Care Act to stand up. In a sweeping, powerful motion, almost the entire room got on their feet.
The moment was one of many intense interactions between constituents and Republican congressmen this week, as town hall meetings are being used as a platform for people to voice their anger and frustration over what is happening in government. Many are comparing it to the 2009 Tea Party movement, which was seen as a facilitator for the electoral success Republicans have had in recent years. Some have gotten so bitter that Republicans leaders are avoiding the town hall meetings altogether.
Front and center at most of the testy meetings is the same issue Cotton faced: the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Since the healthcare law — popularly known as Obamacare — was signed into law, Republicans on the hill have been trying to dismantle it. But now that they have a stranglehold on every branch of government, there is disagreement on how to move forward.
For instance, Republicans have long been set on repealing the individual mandate, a part of the law that issues a tax penalty to healthy people for not enrolling in health insurance. The point of the individual mandate is to get as many healthy people enrolled as possible, so health insurance providers aren't constantly burdened by people who need expensive care. The healthy people's premiums then help cover the cost of people who are actually sick.
When Trump first took office, forecasters saw a 65 percent chance that the mandate would be eliminated by the end of April, according to The Washington Post. But since then, the odds have plummeted to just 35 percent — a reflection of the fact that Republicans are yet to introduce a replacement or come to an agreement on what a new health insurance structure might look like.
Another conflict at the center of the repeal is how to handle Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is a pool of federal and state funded tax dollars that helps cover insurance for poor people. It is meant to work in conjunction with Medicare, which Americans becomes eligible for after they turn 65 years old.
Under the Affordable Care Act, eligibility for Medicare will continue to expand to larger numbers of low-income Americans. While some Republicans are concerned about the long-term financial feasibility of such an expansion, others are under pressure from constituents desperate for more affordable health insurance to support the expansion. Yesterday, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she will not vote to repeal the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare as long as her state lawmakers continue to support it — which they do.
That divide is a major roadblock to repealing the Affordable Care Act, and it's leaving Republican politicians in a bind to produce a plan to replace Obamacare that makes everyone happy.
In a closed-door session at the end of January, several Republican officials were caught sharing their doubts about the feasibility of a repeal and replace plan in audio leaked to The Washington Post. Their concerns revolved around whether a drastic overhaul would damage the market, making health insurance more expensive, and what would happen to the people who lost health insurance.
There were also concerns about the political damage of defunding popular health care centers like Planned Parenthood, which is closely tied to the Affordable Care Act and is likely to lose funding in a Republican-drawn replacement plan.
"We'd better be sure that we're prepared to live with the market we've created," Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) says in the recording. "That's going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we'll be judged in the election less than two years away."
Defunding of Planned Parenthood and health insurance changes weren't the only issues brought up at these contentious town hall meetings.
In another now-viral moment from Sen. Cotton's question and answer session, a 7-year-old boy took the microphone and expressed concerns about the proposed defunding of PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which could shut down more than 1,500 news stations.
As constituents continue to voice their concerns directly to the government officials overseeing their districts, Americans are being reminded of how their voices and questions can turn into national news.
Cover photo: Shutterstock / aerogondo2
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