I got to experience a little slice of the national health reform debate outside of the Darien Public Library this afternoon.
U.S. Congressman Jim Himes, a Democrat from Greenwich who voted in favor of the controversial legislation, had just wrapped up a forum on flooding issues in the region which I covered.
Two or three members of the audience managed to work the health bill into the conversation, arguing it is just one more federal expense that will prevent the government from funding local projects like flood control.
“I’m so upset about it I could just shake … You need to reconsider what you’re spending all that money on. We are not happy about it,” said Bonnie Dudley of Rowayton, whose comments drew some applause and some groans.
On his way to the parking lot Himes, who was running late for another event, stopped for a few minutes to engage a handful of residents upset with him over his vote.
I knew the conversation was off to a bad start when Himes asked for their questions and one woman said: “We’ve got lots of questions. You just don’t have the answers, sir.”
It reminded me of an episode of the short-lived and pretty awful Whoopi Goldberg sitcom from a few years ago. She worked in a hotel or something and an actor portraying then-Republican President George W. Bush showed up. Goldberg’s anti-Bush character spent the whole episode scheming to tell the Commander-in-Chief EXACTLY what she thought about him and his policies. But when her chance came, she stuttered or said hello or shook W’s hand or something, but pretty much flubbed the opportunity.
That was not the case this afternoon with Himes.
Their debate, which was at times tense but not by any measure an inappropriate or over-the-top display, went on for a few minutes and clearly there was to be no agreement. The woman argued the bill was “a very expensive designer band-aid” federal lawmakers “rammed down” voters’ throats. Himes argued he believes a majority of his constituents and a majority of Americans supported the bill’s passage.
She complained about big government and wanted it out of her life. Himes got her to concede government has some responsibilities, such as paving roads and defending our shores and maybe even providing Medicare – at least for those who are already receiving it.
But it was one of those agree-to-disagree moments.
She was not about to say: “You know what Congressman? You’ve changed my mind. The health reform bill was a great idea! Thanks for talking me into it! I love government!” And Himes’ was not about to suddenly confess, right there in front of the Darien Public Library: “You know what? This conversation has convinced me I was wrong, Congress was wrong and the President was wrong. We need to get to work repealing this awful piece of public policy!”
Things wrapped up around the time the woman asked what the legislation meant for Congress members’ health insurance, Himes explained, she wanted to know the specific section of the bill that contained the information, and he offered to have his office send it to her.
As Himes headed for his car, another woman who was upset with the health reform bill grumbled: “I like the fact he’s so very, obviously belligerent.”