Health care and climate change were hot topics last night at a town hall with Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson, of Pennsylvania’s 5th district. The forum was hosted by WPSU, and broadcast live on WPSU TV & FM.
Questions were submitted by the public in advance and also came from members of the audience, who identified themselves by first name only, like Max from State College.
“Your vote for the Republican healthcare bill, regardless of how many people are uninsured now, was a vote to throw 20 million people off of health insurance,” Max said.
He was angry about Thompson’s vote for the House bill, known as the “American Health Care Act’ or AHCA. Congressman Glen Thompson defended his vote.
“The 22 million is a really suspect number,” said Thompson. “That was by the Congressional Budget Office.”
Congress traditionally relies on the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to estimate the impact of legislation.
Thompson said there are still millions of uninsured Americans, some of whom are paying a fine for declining to purchase health insurance, under the Affordable Care Act.
“There’s basically over 20 million individuals today that are paying the fine,” the congressman said. “To me that’s wrong.”
Thompson said he’s working on the health care issue as a member of a bipartisan group called “The Problem-Solver’s Caucus.”
“Forty-four members, equally split between Republicans and Democrats, and we’ve committed basically to stabilizing the insurance markets, and so they don’t collapse,” Thompson said.
He says that caucus will introduce a bill as soon as September.
Other audience members had concerns about the environment and climate change, like a Penn State student named Julie.
“Congress, along with your vote, has repealed many rules protecting water from pollution, mainly from energy industries,” Julie said. “Can you commit today to introducing or endorsing legislation that would reinstate enforceable regulations to protect the health of our waters?”
Thompson responded by touting his work as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee in Congress, and took issue with the premise of her question.
“I’ve got a long record of working with all the coalitions, when it comes to clean water,” he said. I disagree with your inference that we’ve done a lot of things to damage the environment. That’s, from my perspective, just not the case.”
Several questions submitted by the public before the town hall concerned climate change, according to the forum’s moderator, Cheraine Stanford. Specifically, they wanted to know whether the congressman accepted that climate change is caused by human activity.
“I think humans contribute,” Thompson said. “The amount that it contributes compared to the natural, evolving climate change is perhaps are based on sunspot activity or issues related to wildfires. I mean, I think there’s just a lot of issues. Certainly I think human is part of that. I’m just not sure how much.”
Outside the town hall, which was filled to capacity, a group of constituents who oppose the congressman gathered on the grass. They cheered and booed as they watched the broadcast on a television connected to a car battery for power. Marc Friedenberg of Ferguson Townhship, founder of the website WeArePA5.org, provided the TV.
“We’re calling it the people’s town hall,” Friedenberg said. “for all of the people who couldn’t get in because of the limited capacity.”
And why was Friedenberg there? His T-shirt, red with bold white letters, said it all.
“This is a ‘Repeal and replace GT Glenn Thompson in 2018’ T-shirt,” he said. “Because I think the health care vote that he made is sort of a defining one.”
Rylie Cooper, another member of the group on the lawn, agreed. She said she’s disappointed that Thompson changed form a “no” to a “yes” on the GOP healthcare bill.
“He actually ended up voting for it,” Cooper said. “As a person with a pre-existing condition, t’s kind of hurtful to me that he’s not representing me. He’s not representing the THON children that Penn State Represents. And he’s not representing PA5 in general.”
Mike Etters of Howard came to watch the town hall with his son, an Eagle Scout, and his father, a veteran. For Etters, the economy was top of mind.
“The biggest thing for me,” Etters said, “is how is he going to support legislation to move forward with bringing back some of the economic growth, especially here in Central Pennsylvania. We lost so many manufacturing jobs, and so many jobs in general.”
For those inside and outside of the town hall, it was a chance to focus on what really matters in Pennsylvania’s 5th district.
WPSU’s Min Xian contributed to this story.