Toomey-Sestak Town Hall Update
September 3, 2009
by Donna Baver Rovito, Editor, "Liability Update/Health Care Focus"
Author, "Pennsylvania's Disappearing Doctors"
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Toomey-Sestak Town Hall Update
Sept. 3, 2009
MANY THANKS to all the nice folks who turned out for the rally before the very informative, very CIVIL town hall last night at Allentown's Muhlenberg College. Our signs were polite, but to the point, and there were a lot more of US than there were of them!
I especially enjoyed watching the exchange between Bucks County doc Tom Bonekemper, whose sign was all about tort reform, and the gentleman who was carrying a "Single Payer" sign. Many of our folks got into conversations with people carrying "Health care for all" signs, but it never got nasty or out of hand (that I could see.)
Many people who hadn't intended to go to the debate got last-minute tickets from Muhlenberg students - there were about 400 people in the room.
Pat was his usual brilliant, articulate self and displayed a deep understanding of the bills currently under consideration in ALL the congressional committees, at one point, correcting Rep. Sestak about the difference between a bill which passed out of his OWN committee and another one. Rep. Sestak, who seems a decent gentleman, didn't seem to comprehend the details of the bill as well as Pat, although he did say he read it.
Following are two accounts of the meeting from the Morning Call and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Thanks again to the many people who turned out!
Donna Baver Rovito
Health Care Focus Group Leader
A health care debate without ill will
Hoping to unseat Specter, Toomey and Sestak tackle hot-button issue in Allentown forum.
By Scott Kraus OF THE MORNING CALL
September 3, 2009
Republican Pat Toomey and Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak squared off in Allentown over health care reform Wednesday night in what may be a preview of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race next year.Notably missing were the shouting and chaos that have accompanied many health care forums over the last month.
Also absent: Sen. Arlen Specter. Sestak will have to defeat him in the Democratic primary to face Toomey in November 2010. Specter was not invited to the forum, which was arranged by the Toomey and Sestak campaigns.The crux of the debate, before a crowd of about 400 at Muhlenberg College, was this: Which pencil pushers should we fear most when it comes to our health -- government bureaucrats or insurance company administrators?
Sestak, of Delaware County, who defied party leaders by challenging Specter in the primary, supports Democratic health reform efforts that would create a government-run plan, known as the public option, to compete with private insurance.
He said the current health insurance system allows private insurers to decide whom they will cover and what care they will provide.''I believe that Pat, whatever his good intentions, would just continue to allow insurance companies to decide how to ration our care,'' Sestak said.
Toomey, a former Lehigh Valley congressman and former president of the conservative Club for Growth, opposes the Democrats' health reform effort. He said a government-runprogram would result in many employers dropping their health insurance to save money, dumping workers into an expensive public plan run by bureaucrats.
''What I can't support is this gigantic 1,000-page bill that is chock-full of all kinds of big government programs,'' Toomey said.
Moderator Christopher Borick, a political scientist at the college, implored the crowd at the start of the forum to ask questions respectfully, and they complied.
The questions, which covered a range of issues from pre-existing medical conditions to adequate pay for physicians, were fairly evenly divided between supporters and detractors of the Democratic health care reform effort.
Sestak said the Democrats' plan would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with medical conditions and cover everyone, cutting back on the high cost of treating the uninsured.
''The issue here is: Do we accept the system that gave us 14,000 Americans losing their health care every day?'' Sestak said.
Toomey said the Democrats' health care plan, which the Congressional Budget Office pegged at a cost of $1 trillion in June, is too expensive. He suggested reducing consumers' reliance on their employers for health care coverage, increasing competition by allowing people to shop for insurance across state lines and implementing malpractice reforms.The forum lacked the hot-button discussions of whether the health plan would turn the country socialist or whether a ''death panel'' would make life-or-death decisions about the elderly.
But Toomey, in his closing statement, gave a nod to protesters who have brought their anger to forums across the country, saying he understands their apprehension about an expanded role for government. ''This is starting to look already a little bit like a different country,'' he said.
After the event, supporters of both Toomey and Sestak admitted both candidates held their own.
Despite that, Democrat Mary Ellen Geeting of Bethlehem Township said she doubts many in the audience changed their minds based on the forum.
Geeting said Toomey seemed not to understand that even if competition between private insurers is expanded, many would still be unable to afford coverage.
''What is insurance, $12,000 a year?'' she said. ''There are people between jobs who can't afford insurance.''
Toomey supporter Neal Biege of Center Valley said he still backs the Republican, but thought Sestak did all right in the discussion. Still, Biege said, he doesn't think the Democrats' plan makes sense.
After the debate, Specter released a terse statement: ''I look forward to returning to the Capitol next week and speaking to my colleagues about trying to pass a health care reform
Copyright © 2009, The Morning Call
Posted on Wed, Sep. 2, 2009
A cordial Sestak-Toomey town hall
By Thomas Fitzgerald
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
ALLENTOWN - For 90 minutes tonight, two candidates for U.S. Senate, Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey, laid out the liberal and conservative positions on health-care reform in detail during a town-hall meeting at Muhlenberg College.
There were no snide sound-bite putdowns from the politicians, and members of the audience of 400 asked their questions without yelling or abuse.
Both men said that was the point: to have a civil debate on an emotional issue, a contrast to August's public unrest over proposals by President Obama and his allies in Congress to overhaul the health-care system.
Their common political foe, Sen. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), was not mentioned once during the forum.
"We came here to have a substantive discussion about policy, and we did. It's kind of hard to have that with Arlen Specter, because he systematically tries to be on both sides of every issue, so it's much harder to," Toomey, a former congressman from Allentown, told reporters afterward.
Sestak, a member of the U.S. House from Delaware County, said it was vital to have a government-run health-insurance option to provide competition for private insurers, driving down premiums and bringing coverage to the uninsured.
"We saw what happens when you let corporations determine the rules - that's what we had on Wall Street, and look at your IRAs and 401(k)s," Sestak said.
Toomey, who was the leader of the antitax group Club for Growth, until beginning his Senate campaign in April, noted that the Obama administration has signaled it is backing away from the "radical and extreme" government-run plan.
"Do we believe we can't have competitive grocery stores unless we have a government grocery store?" Toomey asked.
A better approach, Toomey argued, would be to foster competition in the private market with reforms such as allowing people to buy insurance policies across state lines. He said a government plan would encourage employers to stop providing health-care benefits to their workers and would hit the health-care providers hard because the main House bill pending would mandate reimbursement rates much lower than those of private insurers.
He also said that the country can't afford the Democrats' plan, coming after the multibillion-dollar bailouts and stimulus spending packages and growing deficits. "We have such a staggering amount of debt, it's economically unsustainable," Toomey said.
Sestak drew laughter when he pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office projected the House bill would not add to the deficit. "What, did I part my hair on the wrong side?" he joked.
Toomey, 47, lost the 2004 GOP primary to Specter by about 17,000 votes out of a little more than one million cast. Toomey was gearing up for another go in next year's primary, and his strong showing in polls helped persuade Specter to bolt the Republican Party in late April.
Embraced by the White House, Gov. Rendell, and other elements of the Democratic establishment as the preferred candidate, Specter seemed to have a smooth path to the nomination - until Sestak jumped in the way.
Sestak, 57, is a retired Navy flag officer from Delaware County in his second term, the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to the House. He has decried what he calls the "anointing" of Specter by party leaders, arguing that Pennsylvania Democratic voters themselves should decide the nominee at the polls. Sestak positions himself as the true liberal in the primary and has drawn support from influential Internet activists.
Sestak and Toomey, a conservative Republican, have been tag-teaming their common foe, Specter, with attacks from a distance. Both have sought to portray the party-switching Specter as a politician without any steadfast principles, willing to do whatever it takes to stay in power.
Specter was not invited to last night's event. "I look forward to returning to the Capitol next week and speaking to my colleagues about trying to pass a health-care reform bill," Specter said in a statement released by his campaign.
The idea of the encounter grew from competing news releases from the Toomey and Specter campaigns on health care, particularly their disagreement over the idea of a government-run insurance plan - the "public option" - to compete with private insurance. Sestak suggested a face-to-face meeting in Toomey's hometown, with voters asking questions.
Specter has changed his position on the public option, saying in May that he was opposed to it. He has since said he would support it if it were subject to the same regulations as private health plans.
In August, Specter defended the president's reform goals in a series of fiery town-hall meetings.
After last night's debate, Sestak and Toomey headed to Allentown Brew Works. "The beer's on me," Toomey said.
Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org