US Healthcare Update

Overnight, the Senate defeated the Affordable Care Act repeal bills. It wasn’t pretty, with 49 Senators willing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, but 51 Senators stood up for us.

Now, we need Congressmembers from across the spectrum to engage with each other to craft legislation that improves and expands the Affordable Care Act so that everyone has access to affordable, quality health care. There are already some bill drafts that do that available as a starting point.

Let’s go.

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Open letter to Congressional Republicans

Dear Republican Members of Congress,

During the Independence Day recess, please reflect on the the Preamble to the Constitution.

How well do you think you are carrying out the tasks that “We the People” have set before you?

You are in Congress to represent all of us, from my newborn granddaughter to the 108-year-old neighbor of my parents.

You do not just represent other Republicans.

Or people who voted for you.

Or your party apparatus.

Or your political donors.

“…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Other than the common defense, these goals are mired in either inaction or regression.

Exhibit A is your attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act which would increase the number of uninsured, decrease coverage, raise premiums and deductibles dramatically for older adults, force small rural hospitals and hospitals and nursing homes that treat large numbers of lower income folks into bankruptcy, and squeeze spending on Medicaid which pays for health care for those living in poverty, people with disabling conditions, and long-term care for the elderly and ill.

It does not “promote the general Welfare.”

It is opposed by a large majority of “We the People of the United States” whom you are supposed to be representing.

Even worse, you are trying to pass it under budgetary rules, making spending cuts that will hurt millions of Americans in order to give a large tax break to the wealthiest taxpayers. And, by the way, precluding the possibility of a filibuster in the Senate.

You have also used a totally anomalous process to create this legislation, forgoing the usual months of committee hearings, expert testimony, public discussion, revision, and amendments. And you seem to have forgotten that the Affordable Care Act followed that regular order process and that the final bill included Republican amendments and met the threshold of sixty votes in the Senate.

Your excuse that you have to adjust to being a governing majority party is disturbing. You have been in the majority in Congress for years, but instead of crafting legislation that would serve the American people, pass in both the House and Senate, and be signed by the President, you chose partisanship over actual governing, eschewing the tradition of other Congresses where the majority party was not the party of the president.

You have proved in the last few months that you can’t even govern with a president from your own party, albeit a president, who, as a candidate, campaigned against much of the Congressional Washington agenda, and who, as president, sends mixed signals of his priorities and opinions.

We the People deserve better.

During your Independence Day recess, I call on you to reflect on your duty to the American people and return to Washington ready to serve all the people in a way that really does “promote the general Welfare.”

Sincerely yours,
Joanne Corey
July 4, 2017

Another Congressional office visit goes awry

On February 21st, I wrote about going to Representative Claudia Tenney’s new Binghamton office to deliver my message about health care, which involved my sliding my message under her locked door.

Representative Tenney has refused repeated invitations to meet with constituents and to attend town hall meetings on this topic, so there was a planned event near her office this morning to try again to get our message to her.

I arrived early and met up with several people in the hall outside her office. The office door was locked, but there was a doorbell and people, presumably staff, were arriving and being let in.

To our surprise, Rep. Tenney herself appeared, hurried past us, and tried to open the locked door, before a staffer arrived to let her in. She did not acknowledge that there were constituents of hers standing there with our signs about saving our health care.

Word got to us that a larger group had gathered down in the first floor atrium, so we went to join them, just as they were being re-located to the outdoors, with temperatures in the teens Fahrenheit.

But, we, the people, are intrepid and would not be silenced!  We had our signs, some media coverage, leadership from Citizen Action, and a portable sound system. People were sharing stories about how the Affordable Care Act had helped them and what it would mean to their health and their lives to lose the health insurance and medical care access they had gained through the ACA, detailing specific problems with the current House Republican bills dealing with health care, and writing messages to deliver to Tenney’s office (despite it being so cold that our pens weren’t working). We were supposed to be able to deliver messages to the office in groups no larger than three people.

When I went back into the building to warm up, one of the longtime leaders in the Catholic social justice community was on her way to the office, so I joined her. While we were still in the hallway, a woman who was with the management of the building met us, saying that Representative Tenney was no longer accepting visitors to her office, that she did not want us there, and that she was calling the police so that we could not gather outside the building, either. (She also told us that Representative Tenney was in Washington, which was odd as it certainly looked like her entering the office an hour earlier and we had thought that the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the office was scheduled for today.)

We went back outside and stood our ground. We thought that the entrance plaza where we were gathered was public property and we were not blocking the entrance to the building, so we were within our rights of assembly, freedom of speech, and petition. Two police officers arrived, spoke to a couple of people from our group, and confirmed that we were fine to continue as we were.

Rep. Tenney is apparently not very familiar with the law.

By trying to silence us, she actually gave us an even stronger voice for our message as the rally went on longer than anticipated and will draw more media attention.

She also did not endear herself to the other tenants in the building because she had the management lock the main doors into the building, presumably to keep her constituents at bay. I’m sure the other offices, including the Chamber of Commerce, were not amused about the inconvenience to their clients.

So, Representative Tenney, I ask you once again to vote against any repeal of the Affordable Care Act and to take action to enhance the ACA by permanently securing Medicaid expansion in all states, by making a public option available to everyone, and by negotiating drug prices for Medicare and other public programs so that medications become more affordable.

My thanks to my fellow protesters, the great people of Citizen Action, the Binghamton police officers, and the kind people of Bistro 163, the new coffee shop and boutique that is tucked next to Metrocenter who gave us free coffee and a place to warm up.

And Representative Tenney, you will be hearing more from us, your constituents, on health care and many other vital issues.

Sit-in and recess

Some of my friends outside the US may be wondering what happened with the sit-in by the Democratic members of the House of Representatives, trying to force a vote on gun control legislation.

The sit-in continued for 24 hours. Overnight, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the Republicans appeared on three separate occasions to call the House into session and hold votes on unrelated issues. The Democrats voted but still held the floor.

At the end of the third occasion, Speaker Ryan gaveled the House into recess for the Independence Day observance, which was not supposed to begin for another week.

The Democrats who were sitting in and their supporters, who followed the sit-in through social media because Congress’s cameras only run during session, some of whom gathered outside the Capitol building in support, had been asking that there be no recess until a vote on gun issues was held.

Instead, the Republicans chose to leave town early.

The Democrats vow that when the recess is over, they will renew their efforts to bring gun legislation to a vote. It’s possible another sit-in will be involved.

If the Senate votes for a bipartisan bill that grew out of Senator Murphy’s action there last week, there will be additional pressure on the House to vote, too.

Regardless of the next steps, the sit-in itself was a powerful stand on principle. The leadership of Rep. John Lewis, one of the few remaining national activists from the civil rights battles of the 1960’s, was inspiring, as was the witness of Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, who approached Rep. Lewis about taking action on this issue.

There were many powerful speeches from House members. Some spoke of shooting victims from their states or districts. Some related much more personal stories. Rep. Marcia Fudge spoke of losing her only brother to gun violence. Rep. Debbie Dingell spoke of enduring an abusive childhood, which involved being threatened with a gun. Part of her speech appears in the middle of this video, which itself summarizes the sit-in.

One particularly evocative moment was when the Democrats sang “We Shall Overcome” – familiar as an anthem of the civil rights era – while holding up signs bearing the names of victims of gun violence.

The representative from my district is a Republican who is retiring at the end of his term. When the recess is over, I would like him to speak on the floor of the House about the victims of the American Civic Association shooting, which occurred in his district, and to vote for the common sense gun laws that the vast majority of American voters support.

Perhaps the fact that he does not have to face re-election will give him the courage to work in a bipartisan way to pass legislation that our country desperately needs for our safety and security.

We can hope.

Bernie Sanders on what he wants

Weeks ago, I wrote about what I, as a Bernie supporter, want moving forward.

In today’s Washington Post, Sanders writes about what he – and more importantly – his supporters want.  He actually mentions the twelve million people who voted for him in primaries, but he has many more supporters than that. Some, like me, are independents who live in closed primary states. Others are people who caucused for Bernie in their states, but who are not tallied as votes for him due to the state caucus rules.

The list of issues that Senator Sanders highlights is not exhaustive, but it is expansive, emphasizing yet again that Sanders’ campaign was never one-issue, as his critics had characterized it.

I hope that the Democrats will seek to address these issues and earn the enthusiastic support of Bernie’s supporters of all political affiliations.

I take the recent energy and actions by the Congressional Democrats as a positive sign that  the party is finally putting the needs of the people above the special interests.

Bernie has been calling for a revolution, not a violent one but a political one.  Let’s use the momentum of the current moment to make it happen.

It’s what being a democratic republic is all about.

The House’s Turn

Following up on Senator Murphy’s almost 15-hour Senate marathon. There were four amendments on various aspects of gun control in the Senate on Monday, all of which failed. There is a bipartisan group of Senators trying to craft something that might pass.

Today, the House of Representatives is having an old-fashioned sit-in to force a vote in the House, vowing that they will not go on a planned break next week unless there is a vote on gun issues. Some Democratic senators have come over to support the House members.

It is great that Rep. John Lewis is leading the sit-in. A veteran of many civil rights sit-ins and protests, he is the perfect voice to lead this action.

an open letter to Speaker Boehner

Dear Speaker Boehner,

Thank you for your service in what has become an increasingly untenable job.

I implore you in your remaining days as speaker to lead in a new direction. Please search through the Republicans in the House and identify those who want to govern, rather than obstruct.

Speak to House minority leader Pelosi about forming a governing coalition so that the legislation that the country and all of its people need passes, among these being a clean debt ceiling raise and a just budget, which puts human needs first.

Nancy Pelosi, as a former speaker, would be the natural choice to lead this new coalition, although another person outside of Congress would be a possibility.

The country cannot afford to be made ungovernable by a few dozen representatives who refuse to do their job, which is to govern for the good of the country, not just their district, not just the people within their district who voted for them.

Pope Francis eloquently called on the Congress to work together, in keeping with the ideals of our Constitution.

I know you believe these ideals and ask you to put the common good above partisan politics to craft a solution that will move the Congress and the nation out of its current dysfunction.

Sincerely,
Joanne Corey