Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Ignoring the death panels, and listening to legitimate concerns

Sometimes, we get lost in the drama. Sidetracked by fools, or distracted by invective.

And so the new narrative is not about health insurance and not about Medicaid, but instead how the angry middle class is forcing Republican politicians into hiding.

A congressman in California had to be rescued from a town hall meeting by a wall of cops. A congressman in New York canceled a similar event.

And a former sheriff now in the U.S. House of Representatives was recently asked to give a tutorial to his GOP colleagues on how to fortify offices and beef up security in crowded settings.

Even here, a week ago, a constituent gathering in Pasco turned into national news when the microphones went live and the conversation went brain-dead.

Yet if you were willing to tiptoe through the noise and the nonsense, there was a message to be heard. And, fortunately, the man in the front of the room was listening.

"People are concerned, and rightfully so,'' said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who arranged for town hall meetings in Pinellas and Pasco on back-to-back weekends. "Their fears are genuine.''

Bilirakis was not there to win over a crowd. Not with Obamacare on the agenda.

Republicans may have the numbers on their side in Washington, but they do not have anything close to a mandate when it comes to the possibility of taking insurance away from tens of millions.

And that puts politicians such as Bilirakis in a bind.

Republicans got the implicit approval to repeal the Affordable Care Act from voters in November, but it's a lot harder to do when you're staring into the face of worried patients and parents in February.

That's why a lot of politicians have taken safer routes. They're conversing with voters on Facebook, or on teleconferences where speakers can be screened. Some have dropped the pretense altogether and aren't even bothering to check in with the folks back home.

Bilirakis said he couldn't, and wouldn't, go that route. He had seven town hall meetings in 2016 and wasn't going to avoid health care just because it had become an uncomfortable topic in 2017.

Before the town hall began, cops suggested to the congressman's staff that he enter and exit the building through a back door. Bilirakis declined. Instead he showed up early, and stayed late.

"More than likely, there will be a repeal. After all, we campaigned on a repeal,'' Bilirakis said. "But I feel like it's my duty and my obligation to listen to what my constituents have to say about it.''

Listening is one thing; agreeing is another.

Like the rest of the GOP, Bilirakis has been conditioned to paint Obamacare as a disaster. And yet he acknowledges the law's supporters have valid arguments on a lot of issues.

For instance, pre-existing conditions should be covered. And there should be no lifetime caps. And children up to the age of 26 should be eligible on a parent's health coverage.

Where the law goes from there is less clear. Are tax credits the answer? Will states still get enough Medicaid funding for poverty-level residents? Will we return to emergency room treatment instead of preventive care?

Bilirakis said he is confident congressional leadership will have a strategy in place soon. Until then? He will continue to listen. Another town hall meeting is planned for eastern Pasco County in the coming weeks.

Tom Timcik, center, claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center on Feb. 11.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Special to the Times

Tom Timcik, center, claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center on Feb. 11.

Romano: Ignoring the death panels, and listening to legitimate concerns 02/17/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2017 6:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman will retire

    Blogs

    Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman, who was under investigation for sending a directive to her staff that said white students should be in the same class when creating …

    Former Campbell Park Elementary principal Christine Hoffman will retire pending School Board approval. Hoffman created an uproar in April when she sent an email to staff directing them to keep white students in the same class when creating classroom rosters.
  2. Mulberry teens, 15 and 18, killed in Plant City when car runs red light, FHP says

    Blogs

    Two Mulberry teens are dead and another is critically injured after their car collided with another vehicle in a Plant City intersection Thursday afternoon.

  3. GOP Montana win may be blip in Democrats' anti-Trump hopes

    Blogs

    BOZEMAN, Mont. — A Montana Republican businessman won the state's U.S. House seat after being charged with assaulting a reporter on the eve of the election, a victory that may temper Democrats' hopes for a massive anti-Trump wave next year.

    Republican Greg Gianforte speaks to supporters after being declared the winner at a election night party for Montana's special House election against Democrat Rob Quist at the Hilton Garden Inn on Thursday in Bozeman, Montana.
  4. More than half of Senate signs onto bill to end Cuba travel restrictions

    Blogs

    WASHINGTON - Fifty-five members of the Senate, including Bill Nelson, have endorsed legislation to fully lift restrictions on travel to Cuba.

  5. Militants attack Christians in Egypt, killing at least 28

    Blogs

    CAIRO — Masked militants riding in three SUVs opened fire Friday on a bus packed with Coptic Christians, including children, south of the Egyptian capital, killing at least 28 people and wounding 22, the Interior Ministry said.