In his first Eugene-Springfield town hall meeting since the GOP health care bill passed the House of Representatives and reached the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., voiced a strong rejection of the Republican legislation to crowd that filled the Springfield High School gymnasium.
“This is a tax windfall for the fortunate few masquerading as a health care bill,” he said.
He said that the cuts the proposed bill would have on Medicare would only benefit couples who make more than $250,000 per year.
For an hour and a half, Wyden answered questions from the audience that ranged from health care to Trump’s ties to the Russian government.
“No subjects are off limits,” he told the crowd, which filled rows of folding chairs on the gym floor and poured into the side bleachers.
The event is part of Wyden’s pledge to hold town hall meetings in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.
Discussions over the GOP bill predominated the town hall meeting. Eugene resident Jay Trunnell opened the floor with his personal experience with the health care system under the Affordable Care Act. Trunnell has been battling leukemia, colon and liver cancer since 2015, which is considered a pre-existing condition under the GOP bill.
He has been receiving subsidies through the ACA to help cover the costs of his treatments, which he said would cost him $35,000 a month without government assistance. He feared that if the Senate votes to repeal the ACA, he would no longer be able to afford his treatments.
“I should not have to die so that some wealthy person can have a tax cut,” he said.
GOP senators have remained secretive about their deliberations over the proposed bill, with much of their discussions limited to closed-door Republican meetings.
An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that 22 million fewer Americans would have health insurance over the next decade if the Senate bill were passed, and polls show that as few as 17 percent of American support the plan.
On his part, Wyden said that he wants to improve the health care system by stabilizing the private insurance industry and stopping escalating drug prescription costs. He also pointed to Section 1332 of the ACA that he helped draft that allows individual states to enact their own health care policies without any additional federal legislation.
“If a state wants to do better than the Affordable Care Act, they can do that,” he said.
He supports a single-payer health insurance system that would make health insurance a public service.
Wyden was interrupted several times when he discussed the difficulties in passing and funding a single-payer health bill. Members of the Democratic Socialists of America shouted that the senator needed to push harder for such reforms. Others blurted critiques over a publicized system.
Several audience members left the meeting after hearing Wyden’s stance on health care.
It is not yet clear when the Senate will propose a repeal vote of the ACA, but Wyden said that he expects a vote as early as Tuesday.
Another top concern from audience members was the federal investigation into Trump’s ties with the Russian government. Some feared that Senate Intelligence Committee heading the investigation would let political pressure stall findings. Wyden, who is one of the longest-serving members of the committee, assured the crowd that the Senate investigation would yield results over Russia’s potential meddling with the 2016 presidential race and the Trump family’s ties with Russian investors.
“I will not let this get swept under the rug,” he said of the investigation.
Other issues raised by audience members included the future of the Electoral College, which Wyden supports abolishing, and Oregon’s low high school graduation rates, which are among the worst in the nation.
On this point, Wyden advocated for the expansion in public schools of STEM, which denotes the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. He added that schools need to take a more disciplinary approach to STEM education and include the arts into such curriculums, which has come to be known as STEAM.
His support of a science and math education supplemented by the liberal arts garnered applause from the crowd.
As Wyden concluded the town hall meeting, members of the Democratic Socialists of America chanted, “Single-payer now! Single-payer now!” in support of publicized health care.
More Politics articles »
Wyden talks about health care, Russia investigation, education during Springfield town hall | Local