Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hundreds question Tom Reed

ALLEN: Congressman Tom Reed spent last Saturday meeting constituents in a few small towns including at the Town Hall in Allen where people arrived early because the meeting was scheduled indoors, in a facility that seats only 49. Hoping to get in at 4, the queue formed at 2.  Voters wanted to express concerns, ask questions and listen to both their representative and fellow citizens.
                Unseasonal warmth melted snow turning the parking area into a gooey mire that little by little was filled with people who left their cars parked as much as 1/4 mile away on the road sides to stand between puddles or climb on a flatbed. An hour before the meeting started there were 90 people in line.
Jacob Elias 
                While waiting I talked with Jacob Elias, a graduate student at Cornell. With no meetings scheduled near Ithaca, he felt he had to drive to Allen to voice his support for funding the National Science Foundation.  With Elias was Rachel Fordise who was one among many worried about losing the ACA.
                As time passed, about 25 gathered around Trump/Pence signs. A few of them were concerned about “outsiders” being at the location. They felt that the meeting was for constituents in Allen and with so many people from Hornell, Bath, Geneseo, and Ithaca, local residents would be drowned out.  
                (The 23rd Congressional District sprawls from Lake Erie to near Endicott, not on county or town lines but on party registration.)
                Shortly before Reed arrived, the crowd of about 400 sang Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land. With the cooperative weather, Reed chose to stay outdoors as he had at earlier meetings. A megaphone was used by both Reed and questioners but at times words were lost in the wind, covered by boisterous shouts or drowned by booing.
                To begin, Reed led the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with the crowd shouting the final words “with liberty and justice for all.” Reed then took the first question in which he was asked why he voted against demanding Donald Trump’s tax returns. While Reed said that Trump deserved his privacy the crowd shouted that they deserved to see what was being hidden.
                The second question was one of many about health care. People in the crowd shouted that they want to improve the ACA. Questions and shouts also made clear that these constituents want to preserve Medicare, to create a single payer healthcare system, and to allow bargaining with pharmaceutical companies to bring down the costs of prescriptions.
                Reed said, “Just so we’re clear. I’m going to stand for the repeal of the ACA in spite of your feelings.”
                When someone shouted, “You work for us.” Reed, smiling, declined to support universal health care or negotiated drug prices. He wants Medicaid to be available for those at 100% of the poverty level and thinks that people should put money into a health savings account. He supports offering birth control over the counter and keeping people on their parent’s insurance until they 26 but not the entire ACA.
                Reed wants older citizens to have a choice for their health care rather than continuing Medicare as it is. That statement drew shouts and boos. While Reed said that this would save Medicare people shouted that Medicare is not broken and that elderly can’t afford private insurance.
                Fred Sinclair, from Alfred, asked for Reed’s stance on DAPL, Keystone and NAPL pleading for support for the people being massacred at Standing Rock.  Reed said that he supported the construction of those pipelines and, later, added support for gas storage at Seneca Lake.
                Another environmentalist asked about the EPA and Reed said that he supported the EPA but felt that many regulations, particularly those regarding water, harmed farmers.
                A woman stated that half of the money donated to Reed’s election campaign came from healthcare, pharmaceutical and financial institutions, all based outside of the 23rd Congressional District while donations from people like her accounted for only 3% of his funding. “Why should I believe that your positions are based on data and not donations?” she asked.
                Reed said that he didn’t know about his donations but high-spirited booing drowned the rest of his answer.   
                In response to questions about investigating Russia’s influence in the Republican Administration Reed said that there is no evidence. Many in the crowd shouted for the release of Trump’s taxes and toi “follow the money”.
                Fears about cutting Social Security bought out a self-identified “68 year old nasty woman”. She said that she paid and paid into SS as her children are paying and paying but she fears for their future.  Reed said that he is committed to changing SS to save it.  
                Several shouted, “Raise the FICA limit,” but it wasn’t clear that Reed heard them.
                When asked if Black Lives Matter, Reed said that all lives matter and someone shouted, “Then refugees should matter.” When asked how the Dreamers can be helped, Reed said that he hoped there could be a path forward for those young people while someone in the crowd shouted, “Arrest and deportation will work.”
                When Reed announced that he had to leave, the crowd applauded dispersing in groups toward their vehicles but Gary Ostrower, former Mayor of Alfred and Reed’s college history professor, stepped up to shake his hand.

                Later Ostrower said, “First of all, you’ve got to give Tom Reed credit for showing up. There are scores of congress people who are cancelling these kinds of things precisely because they are fearful of controversy. Second, he’s not an ideologue in the way that Lamar Smith and others are. Tom will talk and will listen so I feel a personal loyalty to him that I don’t feel for the Republican Administration and I’ve been a Republican for 50 years.”

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