Kingston’s not in his district, but Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney rolled into the Senate Garage anyway the evening of Monday, May 8 to talk to the about 600 who turned out for a “town hall” forum on the new Republican health care plan currently working its way through Congress.
Maloney, a Democrat, represents New York’s 18th Congressional District, down the river from Kingston and Ulster’s 19th. But the 19th’s congressman, Republican John Faso, has a history of declining invites to town hall events organized by Citizen Action of the Hudson Valley and this was no exception. (Indivisible NY-19, a local group organized to resist the initiatives of the Trump administration, also helped put the event together.)
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, who introduced Maloney, said more than 24,000 Ulster County residents have their healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “[John Faso] made sure he didn’t have to answer the tough question, like, ‘How could you?’” said Hein, questioning how “being a woman” became a pre-existing condition. “It was if we have to get a responsible congressman to stand in and answer the questions,” Hein said, referring to Maloney as an “adopted congressman.”
Maloney was animated in front of the crowd and cameras, looking on point as usual in a fitted jacket and slim-cut pants. “Where in the heck is your congressman?” Maloney questioned with a lilt, throwing his arms wide in front of the crowded room. “This is a town hall meeting — some people do this all the time,” he quipped, adding that he has attended 10 of his own district’s town hall meetings in three months. “I have watched thousands of people get involved in politics who have never been involved before.”
Maloney panned Faso over and over for avoiding town hall invites to discuss a critical and life-altering concern of his constituents. “I am not doing you a favor by answering your questions, if I represent you, it’s my job … If you are going to change people’s healthcare, stand up and explain it.”
Earlier in the day, Faso was at a senior citizen community forum at the Kingston Library with about 100 in attendance. However, according to Maloney, Faso was unavailable for the town hall forum because he was attending a fundraiser in Albany.
“I would not blow off 500 people to go out of district to raise money … nature abhors a vacuum.” Maloney said, pointing out that a large tract of his own district includes a bloc of military families who voted for Donald Trump and that it was his responsibility to represent them as well.
Maloney, with enthusiasm that bordered on bombastic, directed the room to take out their cell phones and get on Twitter to tweet this: “@JohnFasoNY, ‘missing you in Kingston, how’s the fundraiser? #adoptadistrict #noshowfaso.’ Let’s get this trending on Twitter.” The crowd seemed to largely oblige, making for a sea of smart phones lighting up the Senate Garage space.
The anti-Faso sentiment was underscored by handmade signs held high, circulating the room, bearing the hashtags. Later in the evening talks, it was announced that indeed it was trending on Twitter.
Maloney introduced local resident Andrea Mitchell, to a standing ovation, as “a woman who has changed the healthcare debate.” Mitchell explained she was in a march in front of Faso’s Kinderhook office, but he was not there. So she decided to lead the crowd down the street to his house. Much to her surprise, she said, he talked with her group and listened diligently as she explained her numerous birth defects and health issues, including a brain tumor, that would be deemed a “pre-existing condition” under the GOP-touted American Health Care Act. “[Faso] listened to us, and he answered our questions,” she said. Mitchell said Faso made a “personal promise” that he would take care of her.
Some time later, Mitchell appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show with Maloney. It was then that Maloney said he’d decided to “adopt” the 19th District. “Here we are fighting for healthcare and hoping the Senate will listen to us,” said Mitchell. “There is going to be a big price to pay with what he said to you, and what he did,” responded Maloney.
Ashley Casale from Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley told the group how she confronted Faso outside of the Kingston Library earlier in the day by his car, questioning his vote to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood (part of the AHCA). He did not respond, Casale said. Casale told the group that 8,000 people in the 19th District use Planned Parenthood.
Maloney unpacked some grim details about the AHCA, which still must pass the Senate and be signed into law by the president. He said 24 million people nationwide stand to lose insurance — 65,000 in the 19th District alone. Maloney explained if any state allows insurers to charge more for pre-existing conditions, then employers in other states who don’t even do business in that state, can seek to get their workers coverage under policies that originate in that state rather than their own. He said $880 billion would come out of Medicaid, and $200 billion would come out of Medicare. He added the AHCA, which he called a “dumpster fire” would also deliver $680 billion in tax cuts to the rich. “It’s the largest wealth transfer ever passed in Congress … and it’s dead wrong.” Maloney cautioned the audience not to trust that the Senate was going to do the right thing, saying that anywhere from 50 to 52 senators will vote for it. “And Donald Trump will sign anything.”
Residents who work in local hospitals and the healthcare sector came to the mic, expressing incredulity over how Faso did not meet with local hospitals and healthcare providers to discuss their concerns or listen to their needs before his vote. Maloney concurred — pointing to employment in healthcare, such as Newburgh’s and Poughkeepsie’s hospitals, that would be critically damaged as well. He said Obamacare helped rural hospitals and community health care and added that programs fighting the opioid epidemic would roll off the guillotine in the AHCA’s cuts. A proposed Medicaid spending cut of $4 billion for disabled kids in public schools would also cause harm, he said. Maloney said the AHCA would add $7 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, while serving up tax cuts to the rich.
“How can we be most effective?” one woman wanted to know, to the shouts of agreement from the crowd. Maloney encouraged people to come out, and do. “Everyone’s path is a little different,” he said. “Run for office. Stick up for Planned Parenthood.”
Maloney also said that right now employers who have over a certain number of workers are compelled to provide health insurance. Under the AHCA, that would no longer be the case. “They don’t have to give it to you.” He said 8 percent of Americans are currently uninsured; if the AHCA becomes law, he warned, that number will jump back up to 19 percent, leaving a staggering 58 million uninsured.
Maloney said he was extremely concerned about the GOP plan’s reliance on high-risk pools. “High-risk pools are when you corral the very sickest people and give them the same healthcare,” he said. “Every member of Congress who votes for this thing should go in a high-risk pool.”
Maloney said he was a fan of a single-payer public option scheme but he said he would be focused on fixing Obamacare to move, he said, to “better outcomes for better costs.”
Speaking before the Uptown event as the seniors forum, Faso called Maloney’s visit “partisan” and “a political stunt” organized by opponents, adding that he would not have attended the forum even if he didn’t have a scheduling conflict. Faso added that just two weeks ago, Maloney had appeared with him at an event at Marist College to promote bipartisan cooperation in Washington.
“It’s sad, but I can’t say it was unexpected,” said Faso of Maloney’s “adopt-a-district” gambit. “Because that’s his reputation.”
With additional reporting by Jesse J. Smith.