U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon on Friday faced a packed room of constituents, many of whom noisily took issue with the four-term Republican congressman’s views on health care, climate change and other issues.
Bucshon also had his share of backers in the crowd of about 350, and the 90-minute town hall session, while volatile, never became unhinged as law enforcement officers watched from every corner.
“This was the most turnout (for a town hall session) I’ve ever had,” Bucshon said afterward. “It was a little bit of a rambunctious discussion, but that’s all right. … I believe in the process, and we had a good discussion tonight.”
The crowd in the Southern Indiana Career & Technical Center seemed a microcosm of a split country. Although the questions were submitted and chosen by moderator Robert Dion, Bucshon engaged the audience in follow-ups, and that’s when most of the sharper exchanges occurred. Starting with the evening’s first question, Bucshon was placed on the defensive about his vote for the House version of legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act.
Questioners pointed to Medicaid cuts and projections that millions would lose care if the bill became law.
Bucshon said the increase of Medicaid participation in recent years is due to high costs of private insurance, and he questioned the accuracy of Congressional Budget Office scoring of those who would be uninsured.
“The Medicaid growth at the federal level is astronomical,” he said. “The hope is that people will have an alternative to Medicaid, to take shackles off insurance companies to offer more affordable prices.”
Bucshon has said he doesn’t support repealing ACA without a replacement. In the Senate, health legislation is stalled. “It’s a work in progress,” Bucshon said.
The congressman drew jeers by saying it’s inaccurate that people are dying in the U.S. due to not having health care, because physicians by law must treat people regardless of their ability to pay.
He also solicited reactions with his argument against a single-payer health care system. “I think it’s a really bad idea to turn the system of health care over to the U.S. government,” he said.
To a question on climate change, Bucshon said, “The temperature of the Earth is changing because it has been changing for centuries. We need to be responsible stewards of our environment regardless of what political people are arguing. I’m for that. The one thing I don’t think we should do is set federal mandates on industries that cannot be met and force people out of business.”
“You’re creating fear,” someone in the audience said. “No, that’s what you’re doing,” Bucshon responded.
Bucshon said he supports President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and he said poor air quality issues that plague Southwestern Indiana have a lot to do with topography.
Asked more broadly about Trump, Bucshon noted that the president handily carried the 8th District in November’s election.
He said he disagrees with Trump’s views on trade issues but agrees on many other things and wants him to succeed, “just like I wanted President Obama to be successful.” The latter remark brought some laughs and jeers from the audience.
Bucshon said he believes Trump should release his tax returns, but Congress should not force him to do so.
He said he does not believe Trump should fire Robert Mueller, the independent counsel investigating ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, but he doubts anything will come from the probe.
Supporters of Bucshon in the room were not as vocal as the non-supporters, but they responded warmly to the congressman’s anti-abortion views and his claim that the Internal Revenue Service is apt to “target conservatives.”.
Bucshon, 55, has handily won his four elections to Congress and has declared his candidacy for a fifth. Indivisible Evansville, a grass-roots group that wants to elect a Democrat to represent the district in 2018, had several members at Friday night’s town hall in matching shirts. Other progressive groups were represented as well.
Single-payer health care and abortion rights were top priority issues for Indivisible’s treasurer, Cindy Warren of Boonville. “We need to keep that choice,” she said.
State Rep. Holli Sullivan, R-Evansville, took to Twitter to praise Bucshon’s performance at the town hall.
“(Bucshon) is doing a FABULOUS (all caps) job answering questions hearing & listening to constituents,” Sullivan tweeted.
Those attending the town hall were handed green and red cards. Red cards were waved to signal disagreement, green cards indicated agreement.