GLENN DALE – With Congress on a two-week recess, many representatives are returning to their districts to engage with constituents. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.-5) was one of them, hosting a town hall meeting on April 11.
The crowd at Reid Temple AME Church that evening was mostly friendly, in contrast to what many Republicans are facing around the country, Hoyer pointed out. Although supporters of a fringe conservative group handed out flyers to attendees, none of the town hall guests who were randomly selected to ask a question challenged Hoyer on his views. The only interruption Hoyer faced was from an attendee who yelled out for him to “please” support HR 676, a Medicare-for-all-style health plan supported by fans of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Hoyer said he supported universal access to affordable healthcare, but wouldn’t commit to that bill specifically.
“I think everybody in America ought to have access to affordable, quality healthcare. Affordable is the key there,” he said. “We can do that by a single-payer system, Medicare for all, that’s one option. We can do it by public option, making sure we subsidize people who can’t afford it. We can do it other ways. I am certainly for the premise.”
The topic of health care was covered in depth at the town hall, with Hoyer speaking candidly about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which he said he considered his third greatest accomplishment in Congress. Still, he said there were problems with the law, including the lack of competition in some of the exchanges, the “challenges” it creates for small businesses and the “way too fast” rise of costs for the six percent of people who are insured through private-sector markets rather than the Obamacare exchanges or federal programs.
Hoyer said the House version of the bill was a better option, but Democrats were forced to go with the Senate version due to political realities.
“We passed it in a very clumsy way, and we passed it in a clumsy way because we could not get to conference, because of the Republicans. (Then-Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid did not have 60 votes,” he said. “The only option we had was to pass the Senate bill without amendment. Because if we sent it back to the Senate, it was dead. Was it perfect? It was not.
“We thought we were going to win the 2010 election,” he added. “We thought we were going to come back in 2011 and fix what we were unable to fix when we passed the bill. And we lost. We got our hats handed to us.”
He said both parties needed to work together to find ways to fix the problems with the ACA.
The event was paid for by Hoyer for Congress, the Democratic Whip’s re-election fund, and not public dollars, which Hoyer said was a deliberate choice to allow him to speak more candidly about, what he sees as, the need to support Democrats in races across the country.
“I’ve won some, obviously, when voting for the Democrat, and I’ve lost some. But I tell people around the country, at no time, when my presidential candidate lost, did I think the country was at risk, was in danger. I can’t say that now,” he said. “There were evidenced in this last election a lot of grievances: a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety, a lot of apprehension, and yes, a lot of prejudice and a lot of hate. That’s not what America needs to be.”
Audience members expressed their support for standing against President Donald Trump and his agenda – specifically, cutting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education – as well as the rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants. Questions also dealt with how Hoyer planned to support Democratic wish-list items like paid paternity and maternity leave.
Another topic was Trump’s Russia ties, which was raised by University Park resident Ed Wells.
“We’re seeing the fracking of our democracy. What I want to ask of you is: we all know what the source of this is... Trump and his advisors and the many hints of Russian connections. What will you do to bring us an investigation that exposes the truth?” Wells asked. “And I don’t mean just the petty details of who talked to whom about what at midnight at the White House, but one that follows the money.”
Hoyer said Democrats were committed to getting to the bottom of the situation.
“I and my caucus – every member of my caucus, the Democratic caucus – signed a bill to demand a commission similar to the 9/11 commission. They need subpoena power and they need to be bipartisan,” he said. “That is absolutely essential for justice to prevail, to protect us as a country against any machinations that may or may not be going on.”