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Romano: Bilirakis sees only what he wants to on health care law

U.S. Rep. (R) Gus Bilirakis, left, along with U.S. Rep. (D) Kathy Castor talked to the audience about ongoing cancer research funding possibilities through a bi-partisan effort in Congress at the Moffitt Cancer Center's Stabile Research Building in Tampa in March 2016.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

U.S. Rep. (R) Gus Bilirakis, left, along with U.S. Rep. (D) Kathy Castor talked to the audience about ongoing cancer research funding possibilities through a bi-partisan effort in Congress at the Moffitt Cancer Center's Stabile Research Building in Tampa in March 2016.

Here's the problem with courage:

It doesn't look good in small doses.

You either have it all the time or you're faking it most of the time. And when your courage is dependent on convenience, people tend to notice.

This is why Gus Bilirakis might want to brace himself for some sniping.

The Republican congressman from North Pinellas got some well-deserved praise a few weeks ago when he stepped outside of Capitol Hill's safety zone and spent several uncomfortable weekends and nights listening to constituents talk about the country's health care laws.

You could say that it should be part of a politician's job to listen to voters, but you'd be surprised how many were afraid of being yelled at in public. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, for one, looked to be in perpetual need of a cuddle through most of February.

So, yes, it was courageous of Bilirakis to come home and listen to a lot of people who were angry, frightened and frustrated. And he handled it perfectly. Bilirakis was gracious without being disingenuous. He listened to complaints but did not pretend to be in complete agreement.

Then he went back to D.C. and wimped out.

Bilirakis has gone all-in on the American Health Care Act that the GOP has proposed as a replacement for Obamacare. No regrets. No equivocation. No acknowledgement of the law's obvious flaws.

When it came time to choose sides, Bilirakis went with party over people.

And, just to be clear, this is not meant to be a defense of Obamacare.

By no means is the current health care law perfect. Premiums have been on the rise, and coverage options have been on the decline. So when Republicans swept the November elections, it gave them tacit approval to reconsider how we handle health care as a nation.

And the one thing President Donald Trump got right is that this is a complicated topic. It's like balancing a marble on a seesaw. Every move you make in one direction has a consequence in the other direction.

And that's why it feels like Bilirakis is playing political games today.

He talks of the faults in Obamacare that a lot of voters have complained about, and yet he is completely ignoring the problems that a lot of voters warned him about in the GOP version.

Bilirakis' office pointed out that a Congressional Budget Office study predicted that average premiums under the new health care law would eventually be 10 percent lower than Obamacare would in the next decade, and that the tax burden would be billions less.

Unfortunately, they left out the part about premiums being 20 to 25 percent higher for seniors, 24 million people losing their health coverage and a large chunk of the tax savings going to the wealthy.

If Bilirakis were being honest — and brave — he would point out that this is not a good trade-off for Florida. We already have one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the nation, and we have an abundant elderly population. And those are clearly the areas that will get hit hardest with this plan.

Repeal and replace Obamacare? Bilirakis can still work in that direction.

But a truly courageous man would not be a cheerleader for a law that would hurt so many people back home. A real hero would not be afraid to speak up, no matter the political consequences.

Romano: Bilirakis sees only what he wants to on health care law 03/16/17 [Last modified: Thursday, March 16, 2017 6:26am]
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