It’s striking how often The Simpsons and Family Guy inadvertently anticipated today’s Republican Party.
Give Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa some credit. While many of his Republican colleagues have been ducking the angry crowds in their home districts, Grassley has been facing them head-on, according to this article from the Washington Post:
In the politest possible way, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked his constituents to keep their voices down.
“I learned a long time ago that if I keep shut, I learn more,” Grassley said on Tuesday afternoon, to the crowd spilling out the doors of a community center meeting room. “If people just kind of respect other people speaking, it’ll help everybody to hear.”
It was Grassley’s second town hall of the day, the umpteenth of a political career that began with a 1958 race for state legislature. He wrote down each question as it was spoken to him — about the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, about whether Congress would probe Russia’s election meddling, and whether he’d favor the impeachment of President Trump.
And he faced round after round of questions on the Affordable Care Act, from people who sometimes choked up as they described their specific, positive interactions with the law. After one woman emotionally described how her family would have been “destroyed” had the ACA’s subsidies not defrayed the cost of her husband’s illness, Grassley assured her that the law would not simply be repealed.
“There isn’t one piece of legislation put together yet,” he said. “If there is, it would be along the lines of giving the states some options of either staying under Obamacare or having some flexibility to do Medicaid.”
The confirmation of Tom Price, the orthopedic surgeon-turned-Georgia congressman, as secretary of Health and Human Services represents the latest victory in the ascendancy of a little-known but powerful group of conservative physicians in Congress he belongs to — the GOP Doctors Caucus.
During the Obama administration, the caucus regularly sought to overturn the Affordable Care Act, and it’s now expected to play a major role determining the Trump administration’s plans for replacement.
Robert Doherty, a lobbyist for the American College of Physicians, said the GOP Doctors Caucus has gained importance with Republicans’ rise to power. “As political circumstances have changed, they have grown more essential,” he said.
“They will have considerable influence over the considerable discussion on repeal and replace legislation,” Doherty said.
Price’s supporters have touted his medical degree as an important credential for his new position, but Price and the caucus members are hardly representative of America’s physicians in 2017. The “trust us, we’re doctors” refrain of the caucus obscures its heavily conservative agenda, critics say.
“Their views are driven more by political affiliation,” said Mona Mangat, an allergist-immunologist and chairwoman of Doctors for America, a 16,000-member organization that favors the current health law. “It doesn’t make me feel great. Doctors outside of Congress do not support their views.”
For example, while the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has worked to increase access to abortion, the three obstetrician-gynecologists in the 16-member House caucus are anti-abortion and oppose the ACA provision that provides free prescription contraception.
While a third of the U.S. medical profession is now female, 15 of the 16 members of the GOP caucus are male, and only eight of them are doctors. The other eight members are from other health professions, including a registered nurse, a pharmacist and a dentist. The nurse, Diane Black of Tennessee, is the only woman.
On the Senate side, there are three physicians, all of them Republican.
While 52 percent of American physicians today identify as Democrats, just two out of the 14 doctors in Congress are Democrats.
About 55 percent of physicians say they voted for Hillary Clinton and only 26 percent voted for Donald Trump, according to a survey by Medscape in December.
Meanwhile, national surveys show doctors are almost evenly split on support for the health law, mirroring the general public. And a survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January found almost half of primary care doctors liked the law, while only 15 percent wanted it repealed.
Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, a caucus member first elected in 2002, is one of the longest serving doctors in Congress. He said the anti-Obamacare Republican physicians do represent the views of the profession.
“Doctors tend to be fairly conservative and are fairly tight with their dollars, and that the vast proportion of doctors in Congress [are] Republican is not an accident,” Burgess said.
Price’s ascendancy is in some ways also a triumph for the American Medical Association, which has long sought to beef up its influence over national health policy. Less than 25 percent of AMA members are practicing physicians, down from 75 percent in the 1950s.
Price is an alumnus of a boot camp the AMA runs in Washington each winter for physicians contemplating a run for office. Price is one of four members of the caucus who went through the candidate school. In December, the AMA immediately endorsed the Price nomination, a move that led thousands of doctors who feared Price would overturn the health law to sign protest petitions.
Even without Price, Congress will have several GOP physicians in leadership spots in both the House and Senate.
Those include Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, the caucus co-chairman, who also chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Burgess, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana sits on both the Finance and the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committees. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
Roe acknowledges that his caucus will have newfound influence. Among his goals in molding an ACA replacement are to kill the requirement that most people buy health insurance (known as the individual mandate) as well as to end the obligation that 10 essential benefits, such as maternity and mental health care, must be in each health plan.
He said the caucus will probably not introduce its own bill, but rather evaluate and support other bills. The caucus could be a kingmaker in that role. “If we came out publicly and said we cannot support this bill, it fails,” Roe said.
The GOP Doctors Caucus has played a prominent role in health matters before Congress. For example, in 2015, when former House Speaker John Boehner needed help to permanently repeal a Medicare payment formula that threatened physicians with double-digit annual fee cuts, he turned to the GOP Doctors Caucus. It got behind a system to pay doctors based on performance — the so-called doc fix.
“When the speaker had a unified doctors’ agreement in his coat pocket, he could go to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and show that, and that had a lot to do with how we got this passed,” Roe said.
But not all doctors are unified behind the caucus. Rep. Raul Ruiz, one of the two physicians in the House who are Democrats, said he worries because few doctors in Congress are minorities or primary care doctors.
Ruiz, an emergency room physician from California who was elected in 2012, said he is wary about Price leading HHS because he is concerned Price’s policies would increase the number of Americans without insurance.
Indeed, many doctors feel the caucus’ proposals will not reflect their views — or medical wisdom. “My general feeling whenever I see any of their names, is that of contempt,” said Don McCanne of California, a senior fellow and past president of the Physicians for a National Health Program. “The fact that they all signed on to repeal of ACA while supporting policies that would leave so many worse off demonstrated to me that they did not represent the traditional Hippocratic traditions which place the patient first.”
Christina Jewett contributed reporting. This story also appeared on National Public Radio (NPR).
Community groups in the Illinois Sixth Congressional District — including six chapters of the League of Women Voters from within the district — are not having any luck getting Republican Peter Roskam to come out of hiding and agree to an open town meeting.
Instead Roskam agreed to a phone-in meeting for which he and his handlers vetted the questioners and there was no follow-up allowed. Also, the robocalls announcing the long sought phone-in were reportedly done in a haphazard manner, with many calls going to people outside the district. Additionally, many interested parties, including the local Patch newspapers, were either never given notice of the event or were not followed-up upon after they used the e-mail sign-up system Roskam used for the event.
This is part of a pattern by Roskam of avoiding any public group contact with his constituents, meetings he calls “a circus.” This is also beginning to be a pattern for Republicans across the country, who are facing swarms of angry constituents when they do hold town meetings. Some are even being confronted at their homes or at airports by people angry about, among other things, continuing GOP support of Donald Trump and the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile a Facebook group has been formed to try and influence Roskam and policies in his district. That group, Action 6th District Illinois, has the following on its About page:
This group was created by the people of the 6th Congressional District of Illinois in order to seek change and responsive leadership. Our goal is to make our voices heard, and bring attention to the needs not addressed by our elected representative, Peter Roskam. We will work together to bring positive change within our district.
A few basic rules for posting on this page: This is a page dedicated to the 6th district of Illinois and the current Representative, Peter Roskam. This page is not about Donald Trump or Paul Ryan, unless Peter Roskam is involved.
The goal is to be bipartisan group of positive change agents. Trolls and personal attacks will also not be tolerated. Nor will third party sales of any type. Any posts of this type will be deleted and trolls will be removed from the group altogether.
This group will not request monetary contributions. Upon such time members will be notified and information disclosed.
Sharing screen shots of posts or member information outside a closed group without members consent is absolutely prohibited. If you are caught you will be removed from Action 6th District Illinois.
Follow us on Twitter @Action6thDistIL
I was impressed when I first saw all of that information. Clearly these people mean business in terms of keeping on top of things.
And isn’t that what the purpose of marching ultimately is? To get people involved? (Although it should be made clear that this Facebook group pre-dated all of this year’s marches.)
More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page. It is a closed group and you have to ask the moderator to add you.
There is another group — 6th District of Illinois – Holding Rep. Peter Roskam Accountable — on Facebook. Click on the link for more information. I had not had a chance to check them out before I wrote this and am not yet a member, though I did request membership as of this writing. They are a public group, whereas the previous one mentioned is a closed group.
The 6th congressional district of Illinois covers parts of Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane and McHenry counties, as part of the redistricting which followed the last census. All or parts of Algonquin, Barrington, Carol Stream, Carpentersville, Cary, Downers Grove, Elgin, East Dundee, Fox River Grove, Gilberts, Glen Ellyn, Hoffman Estates, Lake in the Hills, Lake Zurich, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Sleepy Hollow, South Elgin, St. Charles, Wayne, West Chicago, West Dundee, Westmont, Wheaton and Willowbrook are included.