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Contentious Questioners Challenge Stefanik During Forum

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York’s 21st district, taped a forum at the public television station in Plattsburgh Monday evening. The majority of questions focused on her vote last week in favor of the American Health Care Act.
The forum drew protesters outside as the Congresswoman and participants arrived for the evening taping.  The 100 people allowed into the studio were chosen by lottery.  Each received a numbered card and during the forum numbers were drawn at random to determine who could ask questions of the Congresswoman.  Stefanik, a second-term Republican, noted during her opening comments that she expected many people would want to hear about her health care vote.  And that was the case.

Questions regarding the impact of the American Health Care Act dominated the forum.  The audience liberally peppered the conversation with groans,  boos, and an occasional shout when they disagreed with Stefanik’s responses.
“My name is Carol Solari-Ruscoe and I live in the town of Peru. Congress has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. Why did you vote to prevent people from going to the health care provider of their choice?”
Stefanik:  “My vote was to redirect and increase that funding to federally qualified health centers.”  

“My name is Nina Matteau and I live in Westport NY.  Defunding Planned Parenthood does not really reflect the low income needs of people in our district. (applause)  The president said people with preexisting conditions will be covered in the new health care bill. However there are several loopholes.”
Stefanik:  “There is language in the American Health Care Act that explicitly prohibits insurers from not accepting patients that have preexisting conditions. (audience laughs) It also doesn’t allow them to increase prices and charge an individual more if they have preexisting conditions.”
Audience: “No.”
Matteau: “Not according to the MacArthur Amendment.”

“My name is Mary Ward and you just voted to decimate millions of dollars of Medicaid.  The CBO reports that you have received over $32 thousand from the health insurance industry (audience applauds and oh’s) for your campaign. The single payer system is working: that is Medicare.”
Stefanik:  “I disagree with Senator Sanders that single payer is the best solution and let me tell you why. We’ve seen it hasn’t worked when it comes to V.A.”
Ward:   “Then fix it.”  (Laughter, applause, cheers from audience)
Stefanik:  “I think the long-term solvency…”
Ward interrupts:  “Then fix it. Don’t throw the whole idea out. Medicare works.”

Mountain Lake staff:  “This question came from Beth Ashworth on Twitter who explains that her spouse is a farmer and his premium costs will go to $14,000 per year out of a $30,000 salary and would like you to explain why the rich are getting a tax break and not farmers.”
Stefanik:  “The goal of reforming health care is to lower costs and improve quality and access.  So my hope is that we’re going to have a more flexible marketplace that would bring down costs so that it’s actually more affordable than plans that are on the exchange.”
Host Thom Hallock: “We have about…”
An audience member interrupts:  “Respectfully you didn’t answer the question about why the rich are getting tax breaks, that was the question she read off.” (applause)
Stefanik:  “So it is true Obamacare increased taxes on Americans across the board on costs of health care.”
The audience jeers the answer.
Thom Hallock:  “Okay folks let’s keep this…”
Stefanik:  “So there’re, so our legislation, I believe in lowering taxes, lowering the tax burden on individuals and families in this district.”
Audience member shouts: “You didn’t answer the question.”

Following the forum,  Betty Anne King felt the audience overall was respectful — but wanted answers. “The gist of the audience was that you need to listen to us and perhaps maybe not so much spin and be honest with us and tell us what is going on.”  

Kimberley Davis appreciated the unscreened nature of the questioning but perceived the Congresswoman’s answers as too scripted.  “You have to remember that she was Paul Ryan’s debate coach. You know as an elected official what people are going to ask. So I’m sure she had her pat answers down and was prepared.  So do I expect her to change her spots or stripes? No I don’t.”

Audio of the forum is courtesy of Mountain Lake PBS, which airs the program Tuesday at 9.

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