Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Romano: Ignoring the death panels, and listening to legitimate concerns

Sometimes, we get lost in the drama. Sidetracked by fools, or distracted by invective.

And so the new narrative is not about health insurance and not about Medicaid, but instead how the angry middle class is forcing Republican politicians into hiding.

A congressman in California had to be rescued from a town hall meeting by a wall of cops. A congressman in New York canceled a similar event.

And a former sheriff now in the U.S. House of Representatives was recently asked to give a tutorial to his GOP colleagues on how to fortify offices and beef up security in crowded settings.

Even here, a week ago, a constituent gathering in Pasco turned into national news when the microphones went live and the conversation went brain-dead.

Yet if you were willing to tiptoe through the noise and the nonsense, there was a message to be heard. And, fortunately, the man in the front of the room was listening.

"People are concerned, and rightfully so,'' said U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who arranged for town hall meetings in Pinellas and Pasco on back-to-back weekends. "Their fears are genuine.''

Bilirakis was not there to win over a crowd. Not with Obamacare on the agenda.

Republicans may have the numbers on their side in Washington, but they do not have anything close to a mandate when it comes to the possibility of taking insurance away from tens of millions.

And that puts politicians such as Bilirakis in a bind.

Republicans got the implicit approval to repeal the Affordable Care Act from voters in November, but it's a lot harder to do when you're staring into the face of worried patients and parents in February.

That's why a lot of politicians have taken safer routes. They're conversing with voters on Facebook, or on teleconferences where speakers can be screened. Some have dropped the pretense altogether and aren't even bothering to check in with the folks back home.

Bilirakis said he couldn't, and wouldn't, go that route. He had seven town hall meetings in 2016 and wasn't going to avoid health care just because it had become an uncomfortable topic in 2017.

Before the town hall began, cops suggested to the congressman's staff that he enter and exit the building through a back door. Bilirakis declined. Instead he showed up early, and stayed late.

"More than likely, there will be a repeal. After all, we campaigned on a repeal,'' Bilirakis said. "But I feel like it's my duty and my obligation to listen to what my constituents have to say about it.''

Listening is one thing; agreeing is another.

Like the rest of the GOP, Bilirakis has been conditioned to paint Obamacare as a disaster. And yet he acknowledges the law's supporters have valid arguments on a lot of issues.

For instance, pre-existing conditions should be covered. And there should be no lifetime caps. And children up to the age of 26 should be eligible on a parent's health coverage.

Where the law goes from there is less clear. Are tax credits the answer? Will states still get enough Medicaid funding for poverty-level residents? Will we return to emergency room treatment instead of preventive care?

Bilirakis said he is confident congressional leadership will have a strategy in place soon. Until then? He will continue to listen. Another town hall meeting is planned for eastern Pasco County in the coming weeks.

Tom Timcik, center, claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center on Feb. 11.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Special to the Times

Tom Timcik, center, claps during U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis’ town hall meeting at the West Pasco Government Center on Feb. 11.

Romano: Ignoring the death panels, and listening to legitimate concerns 02/17/17 [Last modified: Friday, February 17, 2017 6:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

  2. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.
  3. Study: Pollution kills 9 million a year, costs $4.6 trillion

    World

    NEW DELHI — Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

    New Delhi’s landmark India Gate, a war memorial, is engulfed in morning smog on Friday.
  4. Quarterback Jameis Winston will start Sunday for the Bucs

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Jameis Winston hadn't thrown in practice since he injured his right shoulder in Sunday's loss at Arizona, and with that uncertainty, a wide line of TV cameras and reporters' cellphones were all out Friday morning, recording the moment as Winston tested his shoulder with his first throws early in …

    Despite a sore shoulder, Jameis Winston will be making his 38th consecutive start since being drafted first overall in 2015.
  5. Paul Rodgers replacing ZZ Top on Ribfest 2017 lineup

    Blogs

    In looking to replace the ailing ZZ Top, Ribfest found some good company in Bad Company.

    Paul Rodgers