Arkansas Crowd Heckles Lawmakers Over Democrats’ Health Plan
At one point, U.S. Rep. Mike Ross sat with his head in his hands while the crowd shouted. He and fellow Democratic Rep. Vic Snyder told audience members at a forum at Arkansas Children's Hospital that they wouldn't support a completely government-run, single-payer health insurance plan.
"But that's what Obama wants!" an audience member shouted, leading to more heckling.
Ross, who represents south Arkansas, sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee and has led his fellow Blue Dog Democrats in delaying a vote on the health care overhaul until at least September. Ross is chairman of the Blue Dogs' health care task force.
The Blue Dogs -- a group of mostly Southern, fiscally conservative Democrats -- have not committed to supporting or opposing the bill yet. A deal reached last week calls for exempting more small businesses from a requirement to offer coverage, cutting subsidies to help people buy health insurance and making any government-sponsored insurance plan negotiate payment rates with medical providers.
Lawmakers across the country are encountering growing public doubts about President Barack Obama's push to remake the system for providing medical care, evident in polls that find confidence in Obama's handling of the issue has fallen since January. Concerns are growing about government-run health plans, a growing federal deficit, and the impact on small businesses and end-of-life provisions.
"I've said this several times but let me see if I can make it a little more clear," Ross said. "I don't represent Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi or President Obama or (House Finance Committee Chairman) Barney Frank. I represent the people of Arkansas and I'm not voting for any bill that forces any one plan on anyone, period."
Many audience members cheered loudly when Ross said he wouldn't back anything that would provide federal funding for abortions or pay for health insurance for illegal immigrants.
But some were skeptical about the intentions of President Obama and Democrats in Congress.
Colleen Shoemaker of Bauxite apologized to the congressmen for being "out of line" and heckling them during the forum. She said the government was taking away Americans' rights.
"At this point in my life I have never seen my America turn into what it has turned into," she said. "And I don't think that representatives and senators are going to be able to (pass a plan that preserves personal freedom). I'm scared."
Though much of the crowd opposed Obama's plan, there were a few supporters.
"I'm a huge Obama fan," college student Jacob Kauffman told the crowd, which responded with a smattering of applause and a few chants of "Get a job."
Kauffman continued, "I was mad at (Ross and Snyder) for not standing up for stronger health care reform. But after seeing this crowd tonight, I'm pleased with seeing what you have done. I'd rather have you two overlook my health care plan than any private insurance bureaucrat any day."