By Steven TavaresALAMEDA, Calif. - "Nobody wants to disrupt?" Rep. Pete Stark playfully asked members of the Alameda Democratic Club Wednesday in what may be a preview of his remarks this weekend.
In contrast to the wild scenes of livid protesters and politicians being drowned out by the commotion, Stark, instead, had to deal with a somewhat irked progressive mob urging for more health care reform than he wants to deliver.
Anti-tax protesters may be girding themselves for Saturday's trio of town hall meetings in Alameda, San Leandro and Fremont. Protesters from the Tea Party Patriots, among others, are expected to "counterprotest" the monthly meetings, but Stark is circumspect about their participation in what is a normally quiet, lightly attended affair.
"I'm uncertain and ambivalent if the town meetings are so disruptive that we can't hold them--I'll be back in September," he said. "I just don't choose to get into any beef with them. If they want to shout and scream, I'm just inclined to let them shout and scream." Stark added he has been meeting with his constituents in this manner for over 38 years. "I just wasn't about to quit having them now," he said. Stark also believes the voracious opposition of the health care reform by some is rooted in misinformation being offered by some high-profile conservative pundits.
"Many of the disrupters are scared and they're scared that they may lose the right to select their own doctor--which is not true, but somebody scared them. If they came and discussed it or listened maybe you could take that fear away," said Stark. "They have every right to come and discuss those issues and hope they would."
For differing reasons, some people are beginning to sour on health care reform the president believes will ultimately give health insurance to over 97 percent Americans and is part of Stark and other Democrat's plan to use the town hall format to educate the public of their plan, yet the group in Alameda appeared far more savvy than those witnesses on cable TV and Youtube.The bill that comes will be a bill that I won't like and none of you will like," said Stark. "You'll all dislike it for different reasons, but if I can be reasonably assured that in five years, north of 95 percent will have access to a health payment plan--I'll support it.
One member grilled Stark on his decision to back the public option plan instead of the more popular progressive desire to enact a single-payer program. Stark agreed a large portion of the 13th District want the single-payer plan, but he says it is political inconceivable and too much, too fast for the appetite of most voters. "The American public doesn't make these kind of radical changes rapidly," he said.
The liberal lion of the Congress and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee on Health, is normally sensitive to the left-leaning populace of Alameda County, but has become a pragmatist on this possible landmark legislation on the minds of Democrats since the days of the Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.
"The bill that comes will be a bill that I won't like and none of you will like," said Stark. "You'll all dislike it for different reasons, but if I can be reasonably assured that in five years, north of 95 percent will have access to a health payment plan--I'll support it."
At one point, Stark appeared to be stoking the same high-voltage rhetoric recently attributed to the likes of Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck when he asked how many in the audience, many of whom already carried Kaiser as their primary health insurance, would like to switch to a new plan.
"How many here have Kaiser?" asked Stark. "Alright guys, on Jan. 1, 2010 all your plans end--Kaiser, Aetna, Blue Cross--they're all gone and I'm going to bring you a plan from Washington that you're going to love! There were three million people on The Mall cheering for Obama, there will be three million people burning me in effigy."
Despite more questions challenging his position, Stark said his bill would allow those happy with their coverage to keep it while also incorporating the benefits of the single-payer plan. "Single payer would disrupt about 90 percent of what people have and we have a commitment from our president that if you like what you have, you can keep it," he said. "Under single-payer you could not. I think we can accomplish all of the benefit of single-payer in our bill."
Now, it's on to a less formidable opponent for Stark this weekend--the teabaggers.