U.S. Rep. John Larson came to the Wethersfield Library to talk to his constituents Sunday about the federal government shutdown, but instead he spent most of his time defending the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 80 people Sunday, Larson said it’s about 40 members of the House Republican caucus associated with the Tea Party who are holding the federal government hostage by refusing to pass a “clean” continuing resolution to keep funding the government until the end of the year.
“I think they are misguided in not understanding the ramifications and the unintended consequences that take place,” Larson said.
He said there have been two election cycles since the Affordable Care Act became law and then was upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court. He said he’s happy to debate the underlying issues in the health care law, but all the Tea Party wants to do is defund it or repeal it, not fix it.
“You have a disagreement with the president and you have a disagreement with the Senate, the solution isn’t to punish the American people by shutting down their government,” Larson said. “You go back to the committee and you make your point in committee and if you can’t do it in committee or on the floor of the Congress, you make your point at the ballot box.”
The impasse came to a head in the final days of September as the Oct. 1 deadline to fund the government approached.
On Sept. 20, Republicans in the House added repeal of Obamacare to their continuing budget resolution. The Senate sent a “clean” continuing resolution back to the House on Sept. 27. The House attached a one-year delay of Obamacare to the resolution and sent it back to the Senate. At 2:20 p.m. Sept. 30 — the final day before the shutdown — the Senate removed the provision and sent it back to the House.
The House again attached an amendment to delay the individual mandate. The Senate stripped it and sent it back to the House a few hours before the shutdown began.
Larson said that in the midst of the worst recession this country has seen in decades, instead of working together, “we’re getting more extreme.”
He continued: “Would it be fair for Democrats to say: ‘We’re going to shut down the government until we get gun control?’”
But a handful of self-identified Tea Party members in the audience tried to present their arguments in support of the government shutdown.
“Our goals are to get us back to a constitutional government, which Obama has broken,” Pat Martick of Meriden said.
Martick said the Congress has the right not to fund the Affordable Care Act, which also is known as Obamacare.
“The Congress doesn’t want to fund it and they have that right,” Matrick said.
Larson pointed out that Martick was referring to a minority of members of Congress who don’t want to fund it, rather than a majority. He said the Republicans are relying on a parliamentary maneuver in holding the “American people hostage.”
Martick said the Tea Party is all about reducing the deficit.
Larson said if a “clean” continuing resolution gets to the floor of the House there will be more Republicans voting for it than against it.
“Understand that this was a tactical political move that was made,” Larson said. “It was the wrong move, very wrong in terms of its unintended consequences.”
He pointed out that 48 percent of the Republican members in the House have been there three years or less and as a result may not fully grasp the problem. Still, Martick urged more than 80 of Larson’s constituents to seek out the other side of the argument.
William Brown, who also associated himself with the Tea Party, said the country has got to stop borrowing and taxing and calling that investment.
“My understanding of investment is what you’ve earned, what you’ve saved and what you’ve decided to put your own money to,” he said. “To turn to the government constantly in this state of debt is a huge spiritual crisis in this country. We have to return to what America is all about.”
Brown said he didn’t want to pay a penalty because he has decided he doesn’t want health insurance. “To me that’s grossly unconstitutional,” he said.
By a 5-4 vote the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate, which allows the Internal Revenue Service to impose a tax penalty on any individual who does not have health insurance.
Larson pointed out that the plans offered on the exchanges are plans from private insurance carriers.
“But what if I don’t want it? They’re still going to fine me,” Brown added.
The penalty for not buying health insurance in 2014 is $95 per adult, $285 for a family, or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. In 2015 the penalty increases to $325 per adult, $975 for a family, or 2 percent of annual income, whichever is greater. By 2016 the tax will be $695 per adults, $2,085 for a family, or 2.5 percent of annual income, whichever is greater.
“I believe you have responsibility to purchase insurance for yourself and for your family, which as you indicated before is the individual, God-faring thing to do on behalf of not only you and your family, but everybody else who could be impacted by your lack thereof,” Larson told the man.
Larson said all the people who have insurance in the private market already are paying higher rates to cover the cost of the uninsured who use the emergency room when they fall ill or are injured.
Other attendees were supportive of the Affordable Care Act. One man who spoke up said he knows several people who will benefit from the law.
Larson sparred with his constituents for more than two hours Sunday and appeared to aggravate some attendees when he opened the forum by showing a segment from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” Most of the crowd laughed at the Comedy Central comedian, but there were more than a handful who scolded Larson for presenting what they felt was a one-sided argument from an entertainer.
Larson’s staff also distributed copies of an Oct. 1 editorial written by Thomas Friedman, in which he discusses the gerrymandering that occurred after the 2010 Census. Based upon information from several political analysts, Friedman concluded that “there is little risk of political punishment for the Tea Party members now holding the country hostage.”
There are no Republicans in Connecticut’s Congressional delegation. The last Republican Congressman from Connecticut was Chris Shays, who was defeated by U.S. Rep. Jim Himes in 2008.