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McHenry slams ACA, touts GOP bill, catches flak
Tuesday, 04 July 2017 10:38
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Former Asheville City Councilman Chris Pelly vented his wrath in questioning the conservative agenda of 10th District U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-Lincoln, during the June 2 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners.

The early-morning breakfast meeting, which included a security detail of at least a half-dozen police officers, drew about 75 CIBO members and guests to UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Usually, little or no security is on hand for CIBO meetings. However, McHenry has been embroiled in controversy from those opposing his legislation. He is the chief deputy whip in the House, where he has served six terms. 

A few people demonstrated in favor of the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare) outside of the meeting, including Vijay Kapoor, a candidate from South Asheville vying for a seat on Asheville City Council. Kapoor told reporters that some of the problems with the ACA are the result of Republican efforts to sabotage it. 

McHenry was the sole speaker, addressing, as per CIBO’s billing, “An Update From Washington.” He spoke for about 13 minutes and then fielded questions for about 26 minutes.

During his address, McHenry defended the House Republicans’ plan to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, noting that, because the law is not working, it is Congress’ duty to act.

On a separate matter, McHenry predicted the passage of tax reform by the end of the year.

However, he spent most of his speech and the Q&A criticizing the ACA and defending the House Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace it.

To that end, McHenry asserted that many of those who the Congressional Budget Office says would lose insurance under the rewrite are buying it only because the ACA would impose a tax penalty on them if they failed to buy health care insurance.

During the Q&A that followed McHenry’s update, Pelly, an East Asheville resident, Realtor, Democrat and supporter of the ACA (also known as Obamacare), noted that, based on data on “the recently passed Health Care Reform” bill from the Congressional Budget Office, “about 78,000 people in your district will lose their health care. … If you do all of this (as described in his address) — take away health care (from the poor) and give tax reform to the richest people in the country, what’s your endgame? What’s your vision” for the future?

McHenry began his answer by noting that his stance on the issues is “not what you describe. You’re making assessments on a broad set of other people and putting it on me... I’m advocating public policy that is going to be good for our voters.”

After a pause, McHenry added in an apparent reference to Pelly’s affiliation as a Democrat, “I understand your partisan viewpoint.”

The congressman also asked Pelly, specifically, “Where did you get that number from?”

“It’s from Talking Points” website, Pelly replied.

McHenry then said, “Between 11 million and 14 million people will not purchase health insurance — if not compelled by the individual mandate. Now we may disagree on the individual mandate. The congressman lamented that such a large number of Americans “say they can’t afford to buy the subsidized” health care — or refuse to pay.

Further, the congresssman said that the North Carolinians who are getting insurance through the law “pay the second-highest health insurance rates in the nation because we don’t have a competitive market.” 

He noted that Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina is the only carrier in the state.What’s more, he said the ACA has been a failure nationally — and Obamacare plans are not even available in most of Iowa.

Insurers “are pulling out because it’s a disaster,” McHenry noted.

Taking a verbal shot at Pelly, McHenry said, “So do you want me to sit merrily by, while I see people being harmed” as the current health care system deteriorates?

McHenry added that eliminating the individual mandate” enables people to make choices for themselves rather than society compelling them to buy products they may not want.”

Pelly interjected that motor-vehicle drivers are required — by law — to buy car insurance and that that policy seems to work well, so he thought the same requirement would be successful with the health care system. 

Responding generally at first, McHenry said that health insurance available to Western North Carolina residents buying it on an individual basis and outside the ACA might carry a $10,000 annual deductible.

Regarding Pelly’s remark specifically, McHenry then said, “They can’t even use it if they get in a car crash... We’ve got to do something different.”

While McHenry admitted that the number of people without health insurance has dropped under the ACA, he contended that the reducation has not been commensurate with the amount of money the federal government spends on the program. 

“I was trying to talk about nuances…. I think we can agree we’ve got to do better. And that’s what I’m trying “to make happen with the new health care bill that has passed the House.”

Another critic challenging McHenry’s Q&A was Jerry Sternberg, who introduced himself as an Asheville native. He asked, “Do you support under the new health care bill ... the withholding for Planned Parentshood? Its one of the few providers that accept Medicare” in North Carolina. Otherwise, “Where will these people — mostly women — go for treatment?”

“Of the 700,000 people in my district, there is only one Planned Parenthood facility — and it’s in Asheville,” McHenry replied. If Planned Parenthood is not available to help them, “they will go to the health department or to federally qualified health care facilities. Asheville has the best hospital (Mission Hospital) within a half a day’s drive.”

“What’s your objection to Planned Parenthood?” Sternberg asked.

“They’re the largest abortion provider,” McHenry answered. He then added that, “if you’re telling me they can’t exist… that brings to question their business model.”

“Are they going to give women free co-pay for their birth control?” Sternberg asked, as McHenry smiled and the microphone was passed to the next questioner.

McHenry was introduced as someone who got an early start in electoral politics, first getting elected to office at age 29.

Earlier, during his short address, McHenry began on an esoteric note, asserting, “It’s a beautiful mountain morning! There’s a reason why people want to be here” in Western North Carolina. “Asheville certainly is the economic powerhouse” of the western region.

“So certainly, y’all know what’s going on in history.We’re the best-informed people in United States history.” However, while he said a lot of information is available to the public, “that doesn’t mean it’s accurate.”

“People ask me about leaks all of the time… The nuance of every conversation, large or small, is so politicized.”

He added, “Look, you hired me to do a political job. But I also wanted to talk to you beyond the tweet.”

McHenry said he planned to speak briefly, addressing health care reform and tax reform, leaving the rest of the time open for a question-and-answer session.

“It should come as no surprise that the Republicans want to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said. 

“Let’s rewind, you’ve heard Republicans say they wanted to do this... With a Republican Congress and Republican president…. it should not be a surprise... This is the first time the Republicans have had a chance” to progress on these issues.

He noted that President Donald J. Trump “vetoed the original plan” by the Republicans. “That was of no surprise.”

GOP leaders went back to the drawing board, McHenry said, and working within the constraints of the legislative process, built a plan that addresses “How do you make health care a better marketplace” that provides good services while keeping costs down.

“There are a number of provisions (in Obamacare) that actually drive up the cost of health care,” he noted.

For instance, McHenry said, “Roughly 90 percent of the American people are in a group market, Medicare or Medicaid or VA (Veterans Administration) benefits.” Meanwhile, about “10 percent — roughly 30 million Americans — are in the individual market or uninsured.’

Further, he said, “The uninsured rate has fallen. Without a mandate, we’d have 10 (million) to 13 million (Americans) with no insurance, according to the Congressional Business Office.

In the proposed new health care bill, “We change it from a subsidization schedule to one that gives tax  credits. Also, we put into the market Health Savings Accounts.

“The policy that we passed out of the House of Representatives is a $1 trillion-dollar tax cut. It also hands over to the state our ability to make the delivery of health care for those who are indigent….”

The House’s replacement plan for Obamacare, which is known as the American Health Care Act, would eliminate the individual mandate, cut funding to Medicaid, reduce taxes used to pay for the ACA and allow states to get exceptions to ACA rules on what insurance must cover and how much people with pre-existing conditions must pay for coverage.

(The CBO reported on May 24 that 51 million people would be uninsured in 2016, if the House plan becomes law, compared to 28 million who would not have coverage if the ACA stays in effect.)

Next, McHenry turned to what he described as “the sticky stuff of tax reform.”

He said the tax reform process “is not covered well in the media,” so he wanted to make sure the CIBO attendee realized that, while it takes only a simple majority to get a policy through the House, for the Senate, you need 60 votes. That is tough to do, he said, with 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats in Congress, most voting along party lines.

McHenry then heaped praise on the legislative efforts of Trump. “More pieces of legislation were passed in this president’s first 100 days than during that of (Barack) Obama, (George) Bush or (Bill) Clinton.”

Specifically, McHenry said Trump should be credited with getting passage of 38 bills during his first 100 days in office, a figure, he said, that tops his three immediate predecessors.

“That’s not drama; it’s legislative results.” McHenry concluded, “While there’s drama elsewhere, I’m going to drive policy that helps my constituents.”

The CIBO crowd applauded politely, as the Q&A began, with George Morizoney of Asheville asking about tax reform. “Why can’t we go ahead and get the business tax in? Get the business tax in and then go back to the individuals?”

In response, McHenry said, that corporate income tax proceeds were just a fraction of inidividual tax proceeds, so that is why Congress and the president are first focusing on individual taxes.

In general, he said, “It’s the most complicated tax code in the world. And the United States has the highest tax rate in the first world.

“So your motivation to repatriate capital from overseas is well-founded and we will get that done later this year. I think it’s worth waiting two months so that we can get it right.

“The work on the individual tax code is basically done. The work on the corporate tax code will take the rest of the year. It’s a tough issue set with really difficult decisions to be made,” McHenry said.

CIBO member Mac Swicegood asked, “How to handle the discord” among his fellow House members? “I mean you’re a ‘whip?’”

“First of all, I don’t have time to watch TV,” McHenry said with a wry smile. “There’s an enormous benefit to that.” (His verbal slap at television news triggered the only laughter of the meeting from the crowd.)

“How you get policy done is sit down with people who you don’t agree with, and hash things out,” rather than battling it out in front of TV cameras or holding duels, as was sometimes the case centuries ago. “That’s a reason I don’t sit down and do TV. Instead, I’m spending time working with people and trying to get policies passed. The fistfight in the hallway — that gets covered. I don’t get covered.”

Another man said, “You’re touching on tax reform, health care, infrastructure. How unified is the Republican Party to get these things through before the end of this year?”

“Not as unified as I’d like, but unified on health care and tax reform,” McHenry replied. “Let’s face it... Republicans are an independent lot. But around tax reform and around health care, there is unity and we have to get things done. I firmly believe you’ve got to get tax reform done this calendar year.”

Laura Herndon, a UNCA associate vice chancellor, noted, “We (in academia) have concerns about the president’s proposed cuts to higher deducation. Could you address that?”

“I don’t think you’re going to see higher education cuts,” McHenry answered. However, he added, “There certainly are reforms that need to be made on student loans. There are very few choices on how to get lending. We’ll try to get better packages to (help students) pay for college. That won’t get as much coverage as health care, tax reform — and even Russia.”



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