Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pete Sessions Townhall Meeting

Report from a stranger in a strange land

Pete Sessions held a town hall meeting in Richardson Wednesday evening. Grand Hall of the Civic Center. Inside, a festive atmosphere. An overflowing crowd. Every chair taken. People lined up two and three deep along the walls to the back and sides. Microphone connected to speakers in the room next door for people who didn't fit inside the Grand Hall.

The audience was dominated by vocal conservatives by at least a nine to one ratio. They were there for one overriding reason. To express hearty disapproval of anything smacking of health care reform. From the young man with the "John Galt" name tag to the old man marching down the center aisle with the sign reading, "Euthanize Obama 'Care' Not Our Seniors", it was clear that Pete Sessions had nothing to fear from this crowd. No one was going to ask him how holding fundraisers in Las Vegas burlesque houses is consistent with family values. No one was going to ask him how inserting earmarks for dirigible research at an Illinois company associated with a former aide is consistent with cutting government spending.

The crowd wasn't there to hear Pete Sessions. They were here to vent. Sessions played the crowd masterfully. He let everyone say their peace, speaking up mostly when someone left any doubt that Pete Sessions might not be one of them, but usually just letting the crowd do his work for him. And that they did. I don't have a recording of any of the proceedings, but here are snippets of what I remember. I use quotation marks for the audience questions, but loosely. I don't claim every quote is verbatim. (Reactions by the crowd or Pete Sessions are denoted in parentheses.) [My own editorial comments are in square brackets.]

  • "How can AARP support this health care bill?" (Crowd boos AARP.) [Sessions wisely sidesteps criticizing AARP.]
  • "How can Congress vote on a thousand page bill without reading it?" (Sessions agrees. He tells the public to read it.) [Uh huh.]
  • "Will you commit to never vote for a bill without reading it?" (Sessions says he has voted on lots of bills without reading them, but he "meticulously scours" "substantive" bills.) [That's a no to that commitment.]
  • "How did you vote on such and such a bill?" (Sessions says he doesn't remember every vote.) [How can you remember what you didn't even read?]
  • "You say you oppose health care reform because of cost. Yet you voted for a trillion dollar tax cut, a three trillion dollar war, a trillion dollar Medicare drug benefit, and a trillion dollar Wall Street bailout. How do you reconcile these?" (Puzzled crowd reaction. Do we boo Sessions' hypocrisy or boo the insolent Democrat asking the question? Sessions says something about Nancy Pelosi and the crowd laughs and hoots.) [Sessions skates.]
  • "The Democratic government passed a budget knowing it would drive up unemployment." (Sessions says he was a paperboy and never missed a day of work.) [Huh? My notes must have missed something.}
  • "Remember, the economic downturn began under George Bush." (Boo, hiss from audience.) [We refuse to remember.]
  • "I don't have health insurance." (Shout from audience: "Get a job.")
  • "There are 5 million in Texas without health insurance, including a million children." (Head shakes of denial from audience. Sessions says he opposed SCHIP because it results in parents dropping their own insurance to go to Parkland instead.) [Huh? My notes must be missing something again.]
  • "I founded a school in northern Iraq. I come back to America to find myself stabbed in the back. Will you commit to never voting for a bill that is against the Constitution?" (Sessions doesn't address the question.) [Sessions missed an opportunity. Who can't commit to that?]
  • "Congress works for us. How can they vote benefits for themselves that aren't available to their employers?" (Sessions says he doesn't accept Congressional health insurance. Crowd erupts in cheers.) [Best line of the night by Sessions.]
  • "The reason given for 'cap and trade' legislation is global warming. The theory doesn't hold water. It's bogus. A hoax." (Crowd cheers. Sessions says we need "nucular" energy. Says people with children in wheelchairs need SUVs. Says we do need to worry about the atmosphere but government shouldn't set standards. Government action will drive jobs overseas.) [A great sidestep. Sessions didn't have to take a stand on global warming or have to explain just how we should address it without government action.]
  • "Why should we give amnesty to illegal aliens?" (Sessions challenges the crowd to "write a bill that doesn't just throw everybody out of the country." Crowd shouts back, "Why not?" Sessions quickly pivots to saying he favors adding immigration enforcement to local police responsibilities. Crowd is back with him.) [This was Sessions' only question that he risked a position contrary to the wishes of his audience, but he recovered quickly.]
  • "80% of people are happy with their health care. Why can't government just leave us alone?" (White-haired lady, almost certainly a beneficiary of the single-payer, government-run, Medicare program, applauds. Sessions says government should work on the 20% that's the problem, not the 80% that's working right. Then, inexplicably, he says we don't have enough doctors for that 20%.) [Huh? Again, my notes must have missed the logic that ties these statements together.]
  • "I'm afraid that in another three months, six months, a year, we'll be so far gone I won't have a place to go to the polls." (Standing ovation from crowd.)
  • "Without a public option, how do you keep insurance companies from responding to the needs of Wall Street instead of the public?" (Puzzled reaction from audience as I imagine them wrestling with the thought, if we oppose the public option, does that mean we support Wall Street? Sessions resolved the conflict by replying, blah, blah, blah, Nancy Pelosi, and the crowd is back on the right page again, booing lustily.)
  • "What would your single page health care reform bill look like?" (Sessions says tort reform, a personal responsibility statement, prohibition of denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, pre-tax allowance for health care savings, a monster risk pool, and more competition among insurers.) [No one asked why neither Sessions nor any other GOP member of Congress introduced such a bill, if only to to be able to point to a better alternative. Correction: The GOP did introduce their own $700 billion bill on 7/29/2009.]
  • "Why did you vote for the Wall Street bailout?" (Sessions says the bailout would have worked except the new Congress decided it didn't want the money back and Barney Frank decided to give to Acorn whatever money was paid back. Crowd anger now directed at Frank and Acorn.) [Sessions skates.]
  • "When I was a 20-year-old single mother, $5,000 for a health savings account would have been impossible. Have some compassion." (Boos, hisses from audience.)
  • "America is the most compassionate country on Earth." (Wild applause from audience.) Seconds later, same woman, "I'm tired of paying for the education and health care of these people." (More wild applause from the self-professed compassionate audience.)
  • "I'm Dave from London and a member of the Texas Tea Party." (Cheers.) "I became a US citizen yesterday." (Louder cheers.) "If you are poor and sick in this country you are better off today than under 'ObamaCare'." (Still louder cheers.)
  • "I'm a US citizen but spent several years in Canada and was extremely pleased with Canadian health care." (Shouts from audience: "Go back.")
  • "The biggest lie is that our health care system is broken. Everybody in this country has access to health care. Go to the hospital emergency room." [My notes show no reply by Sessions, which was typical for positions that I can't believe even Sessions sympathizes with. Or does he?]
Finally, fifteen minutes past its alloted ninety minutes, Pete Sessions closed the town hall meeting by thanking everyone for attending and complimenting everyone for "respecting each others' opinions." It was a fitting irony to a perfectly surreal and entertaining evening.

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