By BERRY CRAIG
AFT Local 1360
Rep. James Comer was all in for the Trump-Ryan American Health Care Act.
At a town hall meeting in Bardwell today, the freshman Republican confessed to about 50 of his constituents that his party’s alternative to the Affordable Care Act “was flawed and had numerous parts that would have caused harm to people,” said Leslie McColgin, who was in the crowd.
From nearby Lowes, McColgin added that the tea party-endorsed Comer conceded that the bill “had not been thought through in terms of effects, particularly in reference to the effect on people in the age 50-65 age demographic.”
He was ready to vote “aye” anyway but didn’t say so at the town hall, McColgin confirmed. After the meeting, Comer admitted to a man that he was for the AHCA, according to a local journalist.
“Comer's Communications Director Michael Gossum said the congressman plans on voting for the American Health Care Act,” wrote reporter Matt Markgraf on the WKMS-FM website on March 21.
WKMS is the Murray State University National Public Radio affiliate. Markgraf added that “Gossum said in a statement to WKMS ‘Congressman Comer has said many times; [sic] Obamacare has been a complete failure and is unsustainable. The American Health Care Act is the first step of a three-part process to repeal and replace Obamacare.’"
The House was supposed to vote on the AHCA on March 24, when McColgin attended a televised Comer town hall in Paducah. From Washington, Comer told the crowd he would vote for the bill, which was pulled that afternoon after GOP conservatives—there are no Republican moderates in Congress—and the reactionary Freedom Caucus teamed up to deny Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan the votes necessary to pass the measure.
“So how can Comer’s judgment be trusted on future bills?” McColgin asked.
If past is prologue, the president can trust Comer to judge it right and proper to toe the Trump line every time. I just checked “Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump,” the FiveThirtyEight website.
Comer is still at 100 percent support for Trump’s position on legislation.
“Comer carefully tailored his talking points to the conservative, rural, agriculture-focused participants at this town hall, who showed little or no reaction to his pronouncements or support of Trump policies,” said McColgin, a longtime local Democratic activist who organized Four Rivers Indivisible, a branch of the national Indivisible organization.
“He made a number of factually inaccurate statements about healthcare and seemed to be implying the Republicans were still going to be going forward with a healthcare bill that would include drastic Medicaid cuts,” McColgin said.
“Factually inaccurate statements?” Like Trump, like Comer.
But it’s facts schmacts in Trump Nation. "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," the president famously bragged on the campaign trail.
I don’t know what Trump would have to do to lose the likes of Comer, especially after the freshman lawmaker got to dress up in his Sunday best—Comer’s a Baptist—and travel from Washington with the president on Air Force One. Their destination was that big campaign-style Trump rally in Louisville last month.
“It was an honor to ride with President Trump on Air Force One,” Comer says on his website. “We had a very productive discussion. The first district is a rural district, and I want to make sure my constituents get the best possible health care. I want to thank the president for working to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
The website has a photo of a grinning Comer and Trump on the presidential jet. Trump is doing a thumbs-up.
Under a headline proclaiming, “CONGRESSMAN COMER DISCUSSES HEALTH CARE POLICY WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP,” the website also brags that “the congressman spoke at length with the president about health care in the first district. The president mentioned Congressman Comer's name twice during his nationally televised speech [at the Louisville rally] last night [March 20].”
There’s more: “This morning [March 21] in a Republican congressional meeting with all 241 GOP members, President Trump referenced Congressman Comer several times during his closing arguments with the undecided members on the health care bill.”
Comer represents the First Congressional District, which sprawls across western and south-central Kentucky. Bardwell, a half-dozen or so miles from the Mississippi River, is about as far west as Kentucky goes. The congressman is from Tompkinsville in the easternmost part of the district.
Trump romped in Kentucky, claiming all but two counties, mostly urban Jefferson (Louisville) and Fayette (Lexington). Comer, who routed a largely unknown and underfunded Democrat last November, must have figured he was on friendly turf in Bardwell, the seat of Carlisle County, where Trump collected 80.5 percent of the vote.
Trump won 85.7 percent of ballots cast in Monroe, Comer’s home county.
“Comer emphasized that we simply could not have 34 percent of Kentuckians on Medicaid but offered no alternative healthcare option for those individuals on the expansion beyond saying we had to get them into good-paying jobs with employer-based insurance,” McColgin also said.
“So what are they supposed to do for healthcare after they are kicked off of Medicaid and no such job has materialized? He also dodged my request to open up Medicare to individuals between 50 or 55 and 65, instead saying they would work on doing ‘better’ on private health insurance options for that demographic than the last bill which would have allowed premiums five times higher than for healthy younger people.”
McColgin didn’t pull punches: “One of his lies was in trying to sound ‘bipartisan.’ He said he faulted Republicans and Speaker Ryan for putting a deadline on the bill and trying to rush it through without dealing with all the complicated implications of the policy changes, and faulted Democrats for saying there was nothing wrong in Obamacare that needed fixing.
“That is quite a whopper since Democrats have consistently stated that they would like to work on improving the legislation to deal with rising premiums and deductibles.”
Markgraf attended the Bardwell town hall and wrote that “Comer said healthcare is ‘the biggest issue in America.’ He said the system is on the verge of a ‘major catastrophe.’ He said he blames Republicans for suggesting the government completely gets out of healthcare because it was ‘perfect before Obamacare.’”
Markgraf also wrote, "However, he said he believes in the idea that the private sector could create jobs and build competition in the healthcare market. He mentioned, though that Anthem is the only provider in much of the first district and ‘always threatens’ to leave and could charge whatever they want.
“On Medicaid, Comer said he supports children, people with disabilities and low-income individuals on the program, but said too many able-bodied people on the system puts a burden on tax payers and expanded Medicaid could ‘bankrupt’ Kentucky once federal subsidies end.”
Markgraf also authored the WKMS “town hall write-up.” “Comer favors repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act and intended to vote in favor of the GOP measure…,” he wrote. Markgraf quoted Comer: “If this bill fails and the president walks away and everyone walks away from healthcare, I believe with all my heart that you’re going to lose your healthcare in a couple years.”