Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt entertained about 5000 constituents today (5/23) at one of the tele-town hall events that have become de rigeur for GOPers who want to avoid the messy give-and-take with outraged constituents that unpopular Republican policies can generate. When asked why he hadn’t met with some of us in person during last week’s congressional recess, Blunt huffed and puffed and observed that he had held some 2000 town halls during his last term – more than just about anyone else, he said. Of course, that was in the BT (Before Trump) Era and back in the days when, thanks to a Democratic majority in the Senate and President Obama’s veto pen, the GOP never had to face the worst consequences of their horrible policies.
My impression of the format? It worked. Blunt and his staff had total control; no matter what he said, there was no opportunity for pushback, no inconvenient follow-up questions. We often got to
see hear him practice the fine art of political evasion. He did, to be honest, let us know where he stands on lots of issues – although, thanks to the controlled format, he was also able to leave lots unsaid. The highlights, as well as I can reconstruct them from my notes, including what was not said, follow below:
Trump Budget Proposal:
Biggest takeaway? Blunt really seems to want to distance himself from the Trump budget. When asked about specific cuts – in health care, jobs training programs and support for the new NGA headquarters slated for St. Louis – the latter two of which he promised to support vigorously – he noted that the budget was advisory only, and reminisced about the way GOPers had ignored Obama’s proposed budget. The implication was clear that they would do the same to Trump’s financial fiasco.
Blunt did, without specifically pointing it out, endorse some key elements of the Trump Budget spending. He observed, for example, that he wanted to make it possible for veterans to get their treatment from private doctors by expanding the same “choice” option for which the Trump budget increases spending.
Left unsaid: Choice programs haven’t been an unequivocal success, partly because of hasty implementation, but also in terms of expense. They are opposed by some veterans groups that would prefer to see the funds used to bolster the VA hospital system instead.
Trumpcare: pre-existing conditions
When Blunt was asked about Trumpcare’s callous destruction of existing protections for pre-existing conditions, he first trotted out a somewhat garbled verson of the standard, but misleading GOP talking point about providing “access” to health care rather than insurance. He then, laudably, expressed sympathy for those who suffer from chronic illness. When, however, he said, and I paraphrase, that when one is healthy, one may have many problems, but when one is ill, there is only one problem and one focuses only on that illness, I got the impression that he wanted to suggest that pre-existing condition talk was somewhat beside the point. He then quickly shifted the emphasis to his past support for increased funds for medical research.
Left Unsaid: Blunt didn’t address how the six million chronically ill folks who may, under Trumpcare, be unable to afford insurance will get “access” to those new treatments that increased research funding may discover.
As part of what struck me as an implicit and awkward apology for Trumpcare, Blunt resorted to the GOP all-time go-to: Obamacare is failing. This is an attempt to deflect attention from Trumpcare that works only because it has become an article of faith for the GOP true believers, facts be damned. Insurers, Blunt claimed, are pulling out of the market, leaving a shambles where soon nobody will be able to get coverage.
Left Unsaid: Blunt did not point out that by refusing to either continue or deny CSRs (cost-sharing reductions), subsidies paid to insurers to help cover low-income individuals, President Trump is creating uncertainty that is causing insurers to consider leaving the Obamacare market and pushing them to steeply raise premiums . Insurer groups even wrote a letter to Trump imploring him to do something about the situation.
Trumpcare in the Senate
In response to a question about why Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had said that he would not work with Democrats in fashioning the Senate Healthcare proposal, Blunt, after patting himself on the back for all his bipartisan initiatives, rather reasonably replied that Democrats weren’t willing to work with McConnell – which why would they? Obamacare is still superior to anything Republicans have proposed, after all.
Left Unsaid: Why is the Senate, all male, all Republican, working group so secretive about what they are planning – and why does it consist of some of the most rightwing, anti-Obamacare Senate members? Why aren’t Senators like Susan Collins (ME-R), who has proposed her own version of a replacement bill, included in the working group?
Blunt ignored the new Trump budget proposal as if it were really as irrelevant as he earlier indicated and boasted instead about current Pell grant funding increases and legislation that allowed students to use them year around. He said some nice words about how the federal government recognizes the desirability of creating a skilled citizenry, but, in so many words, said if you can’t pay back those huge educational loans, too bad, baby, you’re on your own.
Left Unsaid: What does he think of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposals to cut student loan funding, cut current debt forgiveness programs, cease government subsidies to pay student loan interest charges, and help students who fall behind in repayment?
Trump Russiagate scandal
Blunt is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and he was emphatic that Russian interference in U.S. elections needs to be investigated and all questions must be answered as a matter of national security. He stated, not surprisingly, that the best place for that to happen was the Intelligence Committee.
Left Unsaid: No mention was made of possible Trump campaign collusion with the Russians. Nor was any mention was made of the recently named Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, whose investigation, as far as Blunt’s presentation went, might not even exist.
A gentleman asked about the “leakers” who so trouble Donald Trump. He observed that he could write a program himself and catch the miscreants, so why couldn’t the big-time government folks catch them and put them in jail where they belong? Blunt agreed that unsanctioned leaking was bad and might compromise security in some instances. To his credit, Blunt, unlike many of his GOP colleagues, did not minimize the RussiaGate scandal by suggesting that the real evil-doers were the whistleblowers.
Left unsaid: Blunt did not offer the questioner a job writing that program to catch the leakers. Wonder why.
*Typos corrected and format edited slightly (12.56 pm, 5/25/2017)