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Congressman Ben Chandler wants the Obama administration to slow down on health care and focus on jobs and the economy.
That was Chandler’s message in an interview Monday after opponents of the House’s efforts to reform health care held a spoof town hall meeting Saturday in Lexington.
The meeting included an effigy of Chandler on stage with a microphone.
Chandler said he does not routinely hold town hall meetings during his August recess and had no plans to do so during the ongoing health care debate.
He said meetings other House members have held during the past several weeks haven’t been productive and he prefers to meet with constituents in a variety of different settings.
“To be honest, I’m looking for opportunities to have civil discourse,” he said. “That’s where I’m going to be.”
Chandler said he has spent countless hours both reading the House’s 1,000-plus page bill on health care reform and gathering information from multiple sources.
“There are a wide range of viewpoints,” he said. “Some people are adamant for a single payer system, some want House Bill 3200 and some say government shouldn’t be involved in health care at all.
“It depends on who you talk to and what their interests are.”
That apparently isn’t good enough for strident opponents, including a number of Lawrenceburg residents who attended last Saturday’s spoof meeting in the downtown branch of the Lexington Public Library.
Karen Richardson said she joined about 15 other Lawrenceburg residents at the event interested in stopping what she considers the “socialist” attempt of government to take over health care.
Richardson said a group decked out their cars that day for a “health care funeral procession” and met in the Wal-Mart parking lot before heading to Lexington.
She said the event was not rowdy or loud, as other town hall meetings have been described. Instead, she said it was a civil exchange of ideas and questions — questions for a short period time directed toward Chandler’s effigy on stage.
“It’s a strictly socialist bill,” Richardson said from her home on Main Street that sports a “Where’s Ben?” sign in its front yard. “I have read the bill and taken notes, and only 25 percent of what’s in there relates to health care. The rest is what they want to do to the United States.”
As have others, Richardson criticized the bill for its so-called “death panel” that calls for doctors to offer end-of-life counseling to the elderly.
“If people will just take the time to read it, things will really pop out at you,” she said. “They want to spend on health care for people ages 14 to 55. They figure before or after that the cost is not worth putting into you. Even the doctors at the meeting were talking about that.”
“Some people are complaining desperately that we are moving toward a death panel,” Chandler said. “Nothing moves us in that direction in the least, at least in my opinion.”
Chandler said he has spoken with nearly every hospital administrator in his Sixth District, and even met in his office with a person in the front row of Saturday’s mock town hall meeting.
“I am extremely active and concerned about this,” he said, noting that he has been in Anderson, Garrard, Scott, Lincoln, Fayette and Mercer counties since the August recess started.
“This business of portraying me as absent, the facts just don’t sustain that.”
Chandler pointed to his role in Congress as one of several “Blue Dog” or fiscally conservative democrats who put the brakes on the Obama administration’s push to have health care reform passed in the House by the end of July.
“I think there is a very great need for reform, but my own preference is to have the Obama administration slow down a little and focus like a laser beam on the economy,” he said. “That is the basis for all this nervousness and people really want to see that focused on.
“People recognize the need for health care reform, but want us to take our time doing it. The more time we take and the slower we go, the people will be less nervous.”
Matt Lockett, a conservative republican who has already filed to run against Chandler next fall spoke at Saturday’s event, but not until the effigy was removed from the stage.
He said he’s more than willing to stage other town hall meetings to discuss health care and other issues voters in the Sixth District have.
“If Ben isn’t willing to go around and talk to the constituents who put him in office, I will,” Lockett said Monday evening from his home in Nicholasville. “I can’t vote for these things yet, but I still want to know what people are thinking.”
Lockett also questioned Chandler’s voting record and scoffed at the notion that Chandler is a true Blue Dog.
“He can say all day long that he’s a Blue Dog, but that’s a farce. His voting record is not a Blue Dog voting record. He votes 90 percent of the time with [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, and that tells me a lot right there.”
Asked if he thinks the House will pass some version of health care reform this fall, Chandler said he isn’t sure.
“The critical place is in the Senate. The democrats have enough of an advantage in the House to probably push through almost anything, but the final bill is going to come from the Senate.”
As for having an effigy of him on stage, Chandler said he didn’t think that sort of display solves the problem of health care reform.
“I don’t know what that does to get us a solution,” he said.
E-mail Ben Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org.