I was recently able to interview U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock during the government shutdown of 2013. He’s the Republican rep. for California’s 4th district. Despite the state-wide trend of electing Democrats, Tom McClintock represents a more rural & “red” part of California. I found our interview and / or debate to be civil, but as with all politicians, it’s hard to get a straight answer or any admission of guilt or remorse. But we spoke for about 30 minutes and here are the highlights of that chat which includes some interesting admissions and questionable statistics.
I’ve heard from people all over the country that aren’t seeing the effects of the shutdown. Some right-wingers have even mused about how nice it is to have the government closed. But I live in a part of the Congressman’s district that relies heavily on tourism and the United States Forest Service and lands. We’ve seen closures of parks, federal land, employees furloughed and events cancelled. All of this sends ripple effects through my community because if people can’t go to “place A” then they also don’t stay and spend money at “place B, C & D” in town. I asked the Congressman why he’s choosing to fight this battle in a way that has an immediate negative effect on his own constituents. The word “denial” never came out of his mouth, but his answer was steeped in it: “The House has actually offered 3 proposals before the shutdown in order to keep the government open, but Republicans have also said that we have this unfolding disaster of Obamacare”. He then went into the usual list of “the sky is falling” propaganda against the Affordable Care Act, or as it has become known, “Obamacare”. This is how I will continue to refer to it as I believe a day will come when the majority of people “get it” and the GOP regrets giving it that nickname.
The Congressman’s first point against Obamacare is that people have lost their insurance plans and rates have “tripled” for some people. This is true, but when you have the full context, you shouldn’t see it as a negative. Obamacare prevents insurance companies from offering most “catastrophic” insurance plans. If the plan you’ve been on only covers catastrophic injuries but no other preventive care or routine procedures… it’s no longer allowed since you should be paying for comprehensive care instead. Doing so only costs more money in the long run for you and the health care system. So yes, those plans will go away. Most catastrophic plans only cost about $50 – $100 per month. So when you drop that and get comprehensive coverage, the cost probably will triple for some people. But without the Obamacare exchanges, you would either be denied comprehensive care or the price would be much higher. Plus, the majority of people will qualify for plans that are well under $300 per month. After the interview, I got an email from a listener that said this exact scenario happened to her, where her old plan was cancelled and her cost tripled for her new plan… and she couldn’t be happier about it! She had pre-existing conditions that made comprehensive care too expensive for her and now she’s able to get affordable care through the exchanges. She explained that her “catastrophic” coverage offered her next to nothing and that Obamacare would save her money overall. She said she was able to get her kids covered for around $45 per month through the exchange.
Congressman Tom McClintock’s second point against Obamacare criticized the technical problems that plagued the websites when they first launched. He called the exchanges “unmitigated disasters”. I asked him to clarify that and he went on to say “In Maryland 170,000 people visited the website and they sold 360 -or so- policies”. He then went into an analogy of how a business would be considered a failure if in the first week they only sold products to less than 1% of the customers who shopped at their store. I of course pointed out that any new business must be prepared to weather the first 6 months while you get your marketing message out there and that no “business expert” would ever declare any business a failure after one week, especially if they sold their greatly misunderstood product to nearly 400 customers. I then said “but I’m not sure what’s going on in Maryland, why don’t we talk about California where you & I live”. I explained that in the first week of “Covered California” (that’s what they call the Obamacare exchange in CA) that roughly 16,000 people applied for health insurance that would cover approximately 22,000 Californians and that another roughly 28,000 applications were pending approval. His response was “Filling out an application does not mean they’re buying the policy, they are not releasing the number of policy’s they’re actually selling”. He’s correct, they’re only going to release monthly numbers, but have you ever filled out the paperwork to buy something when you have no intention of buying it? The fact that nearly 50,000 Californians, even with the technical problems, applied for coverage in the first week is significant. Given that the Congressman didn’t want to acknowledge it or use his own state as an example proves it.
Congressman McClintock then changed the topic and started talking about the GOP’s latest proposal to fund Obamacare, but delay the individual mandate for another year. He asked why that wasn’t a reasonable suggestion? I answered “you guys know full-well that delaying the mandate will only sabotage the law because if people don’t have to signup they probably won’t and that will defeat the whole system.” That was followed by 3 seconds of silence as the Congressman thought of a reply to that, which was yet again to change the subject. This time to the mandate delay for businesses. I explained that the delay for businesses would have a minimal impact on the system because the vast majority of large businesses already provide insurance and that the real problem is with the individuals that are not covered. The Congressman replied “Yes, but…” (Score 1 for me, he just agreed with my answer) he continued “now you’re seeing a lot of businesses cancel their policies”. First of all, that’s anecdotal evidence. Some companies have dropped coverage and others like “Starbucks” and “Disney” have expanded it to include employees who were considered part-time. The overall national trend does not show that companies are dropping coverage… and why would they? As the Congressman pointed out, they don’t have to provide coverage until 2015. So why would any company be freaking out now in 2013?
The Congressman continued to bring up the technical problems with the websites. I then pointed out that I’ve been on the “Covered California” website recently and that it was working fine. I also highlighted the fact that I just interviewed our local hospital about signing up for Obamacare in California. They explained that they have trained 18 staff members to assist residents, at no charge, with signing up. They said that the website was flawed in the first few days but that now it’s working fine. The Congressman did not seem to like hearing that and again switched the topic to ask me “If it’s such a good deal, then why do we have to force people to buy it… why do you need a gun to their head to force them to do something that should be enormously appealing, where they can save tons of money, and get comprehensive health care forever?” I again explained that the mandate makes the whole thing work since some people won’t do the “right thing” unless they’re forced too and that those without insurance are sticking us all with the bill by going to a local ER and not paying for it. I thought stopping “moochers” was something conservatives loved?
At this point I decided to flip his logic back on him… I asked if the Republicans would be willing to negotiate their “pipe dream” for a Democrat “pipe dream” by negotiating Obamacare against strict gun control. His answer shocked me and I have to doubt the sincerity of it: “We’d certainly be very interested in discussing how we could reduce gun violence… that’s a very important discussion to have”. When I expressed disbelief that the GOP would ever negotiate on gun rights, he said that the Democrats weren’t willing to negotiate at all, even though the Republicans were “begging for discussions” like this, so it was a moot point. That’s because the Democrats aren’t interested in wasting everyone’s time fighting a fight that can’t be won. But the Republicans seem fine with that concept and we’re all suffering because of it.
Congressman McClintock then started talking about the conspiracy theory that Obama is personally involved in making this shutdown “hurt” as much as possible. I asked him if he had direct knowledge of this and he could not confirm that he did, instead he sighted something he “heard” from a forest service employee in a newspaper interview. I then posed the question “Let’s just say for the sake of argument that Obama is doing that, who put him in that position? I know the flames are spreading, but who started the fire?” The Congressman replied “well certainly NOT the Republicans!” I wasn’t even sure how to reply to that level of denial.
I asked the Congressman if he’d be willing to “fix” Obamacare or if he just wanted to throw it out? He replied “Well, I think ultimately it’s going to collapse under its own weight.” I pressed further: “what if next summer comes around and Obamacare ISN’T a big disaster?” I was again shocked by his answer: “If next summer comes and it’s working great… then I’m wrong”. I’ve never heard a Republican admit that being wrong was even a possibility and I thanked him for acknowledging it was, to which he said “I don’t think it’s a strong possibility”. But hey, he admitted it was possible, so that’s another point for me!
For my final “Obamacare” question, I brought up the fact that I’ve inquired with my companies’ health insurance provider, Blue Cross, about what the rates will be for next year and was told that they haven’t announced them yet. The Congressman replied “Yup”. So I asked how other people can be freaking out about rates going up next year when they don’t even know yet. He insisted that the increase notices would be coming soon; I guess his talents of predicting the future are stronger than that of Blue Cross.
Before I could move onto another topic, Congressman McClintock tossed out one more Obamacare fact, or as it turns out, myth: “The Medicare actuary has predicted that Obamacare will be costing about, in total, $641 Billion more over the next 8 years then we would paying for health care without Obamacare, Forbes pegs that cost at about $7,500 of increased costs per family”. Forbes did draw that conclusion, but has since acknowledged that their conclusion might be flawed. Spending will go up because more people will have insurance and more money will flow through the system. That study doesn’t say that individual health plans will go up as a result and Forbes was wrong to make that connection.
The Congressman lamented one last time about “freedom” being sacrificed when people are forced to buy into a government program that they don’t want to be involved in. I asked “What about Social Security? Should I be able to opt-out of that? I hate paying for something that I might never get!” To which the congressman offered up an old plan of his where people could opt-out of paying Social Security certain years if they would delay excepting benefits later in life. Which seems like a terrible idea, tons of people would take the gamble and the system would collapse. Either the Congressman doesn’t understand the concept of a mandate for government programs or he is choosing to ignore reality.
On a “lighter” topic, I asked Congressman McClintock if he would be willing to vote on a “clean” spending bill (meaning no strings attached) to re-open the government and he said “No, I believe we can’t ignore the frantic pleas from constituents all across the district to please do something about this Obamacare mandate”. Ironically, 3 days after this interview, the Congressman sent out an email to the media & his constituents about what he wants to see happen to re-open the government and raise the debt limit… and he made absolutely NO mention of Obamacare. It seems he’s part of the group of Republicans that has admitted defeat on sabotaging Obamacare and is now trying to shift the discussion to spending cuts.
My last question to Congressman Tom McClintock was the one thing everyone wanted me to ask him: “Are you going to accept your pay during the shutdown or donate it to charity?” His non-answer was epic:
McClintock: “Well, Congress doesn’t get paid until November 1st, so I’m hoping it’s over long before then.”
Me: “so in the meantime you’re still accepting your pay?”
McClintock: “Well again, the last pay was before the shutdown and we don’t get paid until November 1st.”
Me: “You guys only get paid once per month?”
Me: “Ok, so when November 1st rolls around are you going to accept your paycheck?”
McClintock: “Like I said, I’m really hoping it won’t go on that long”
As it turns out, the shutdown did end before then. But it’s still fair to wonder if any members of the House GOP earned their paycheck for the first 16 days of October. Fun Fact: The answer is “no”.
And what did Congressman Tom McClintock and his GOP colleagues gain from all of this? They did nothing to stop or sabotage Obamacare, wasted millions of dollars, hurt real people & communities and suffered major damage in public opinion polls. I really have to question who in the GOP came up with this plan and why every other elephant went along. Let’s just hope that everyone remembers this during the 2014 mid-term elections. We need to shutdown… the GOP.