Senator Whitehouse appeared at an informal community meeting October 16, at the Butcher Block Deli on Elmgrove Ave. in Providence. Present in the crowd were state reps, Rhoda Perry, Cliff Wood, David Segal and Seth Yurdin.
The cafe filled up a half hour before he arrived, the crowd was respectful, but focused. People came with questions about health care, the economy, Afghanistan and other issues.
On the public option, Sen. Whitehouse was supportive and optimistic that the final bill will include one.
He talked about bipartisanship, ‘chasing the ghost of bipartisanship’. Later, asked why the Democrats needed 60 votes to pass a health care bill he explained tactics, such as adding amendments, that could drag out the debate endlessly. He said that even cloture allows three days, which opponents of the bill would drag out to the last second, ‘burning up days’ that Congress needs for other urgent business. He favored getting the Democrats to support a bill and get it passed, and said when that happened Republicans would get on board. He said that cost-control measures would include wellness, preventive care, cutting hospital re-admission rates with improved discharge planning and electronic medical records. He cited ‘Safeway’ supermarket corporation as a model for a wellness program with voluntary incentives for healthy changes that cut costs of treatment.
He seemed disappointed that the White House was not demanding more concessions from the pharmaceutical industry. He referred to Medicare Part D and the ‘donut hole’ for drug coverage.
In response to a question about the banking crisis he said that re-regulation will be the big challenge. If it’s too big to fail it shouldn’t exist. There is bankruptcy protection for almost everything but home mortgages, and said he supported reforms that would allow homeowners to avoid eviction.
He said that the country is behind on essential infrastructure repair, such as water and sewer lines, estimated at 662 billion dollars that will have to be paid for sooner or later. He proposed ‘moving public spending’ to stimulate the economy by creating jobs today in a time of 13% unemployment rather than waiting.
He also said he supports a reporter shield law, of which he is a co-sponsor.
A young woman asked him about the ACORN controversy. Whitehouse said that the film shot by conservative activists was embarrassing, and no one in Congress wanted that fight, but he voted against censure because the response in Congress had ‘the odor of a stampede’. He said that he had served as attorney general and he is committed to due process, not conviction without a fair trial.
He compared another large, national organization, American Airlines. Recently several AA employees were arrested for using the airline to ship cocaine, but no rational person would demand that the airline be closed down because of the wrongdoing of a few employees.
‘I’ll defend my vote to anyone’, he said.
A man in a Vietnam Veterans cap asked him about the National Guard and credit for time deployed for veterans who served in a particular time period and the Senator thought the time would be credited, but referred the questioner to one of his aides to look up the specifics.
I left believing that the Senator will fight for a public option, but what that option will be remains to be seen. Stay tuned.
I would have placed a link here to the Providence Journal, but there isn’t one. Your roving reporter, nurse, artist multitasker may be the only source for this story, but if you have any other coverage, please send it here.