This Q&A is one in a series of interviews with Bay Area members of Congress and others involved in the health care debate. Reporters asked the representatives chiefly about the health care bill but also touched on other pressing issues in their districts. Today: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.
Q: What are the chances for passing a bill this year with a public option? Without a public option?
A: I think in the house they're very good, I'd bet you even money. I don't know if the public option will get watered down some from what we wrote in the three committees, but I'm pretty confident we'll get a bill with a public option out of the House. Whether or not we get it in the Senate, I don't know.
If the Senate reports a watered-down bill then we go to conference and see what we get, and that's where I think the president weighs in. We've written it in the house to comply with the standards he had.
Q: Will you, personally, vote for a bill without a public option?
A: I have said publicly and I would repeat that I probably, when all the negotiations are done, am not going to like the bill that we finally vote out of the House — it ain't going to be the bill I wrote.
But if I can have an interview with you after we pass it and I can guarantee that 95 to 97 percent of people will have insurance within five years, I can't vote against that. I think it would be far better with a public plan.
We could accomplish what the president wants to accomplish without a public plan but the regulation of the private insurance companies would have to be so strict and so changed that we'd never get it passed.
Q: What's your take on the boisterous nature of many members' town meetings this recess?
A: In two of the three meetings, I had what I presume were Larouchees (followers of Lyndon Larouche), people who were practiced at being annoying "... I just sat down and waited for them to shut up or waited for the crowd to tell them to shut up.
At each meeting more than the fair share of protesters got their chance to ask a question or make a statement, they weren't 10 or 15 percent of the audience, but at least a third of them got to speak their minds.
Q: What do you believe people are so scared of or angry about?
A: I think the things I'm hearing that are being promoted are this death panel, which is completely trumped up, that there's a panel that's going to decide whether you live or die.
I think there's some concern that they will no longer be able to choose their physician. Half the people in your circulation area belong to Kaiser "... Kaiser beneficiaries are very loyal. But there is nothing in the bill that would restrict anybody's choice of physician, unless they pick a plan that has a limited number of physicians.
I think there are a lot of conservatives both Republican and Democratic who are scared for the wrong reasons, but the fear is real.
Q: There's a lot of misunderstanding and/or misinformation about what HR 3200 does and doesn't do. Do you think constituents are particularly prone to being misled on this issue compared with others, and if so, why?
A: I think it's basically the American public's resistance to change. The American public doesn't quickly switch their outlook, so if they thought we were going to end Social Security or Medicare, you get the seniors pretty upset "... and with a lot of discussion and really, I think, disinformation, it's not hard to get people upset. I think the people promoting the House bill weren't quick enough"... I think the Republicans got the lead in scaring people and just kept at it.
Q: Do you have any opinions on live constituent meetings versus "tele-townhalls" for discussion of this or other issues?
A: I would tell you that I have had in my career 1,200 town meetings — three on one Saturday of the month, 10 months of the year "... and I just wasn't about to chuck it in this time because somebody said they were going to come and raise hell. I said jokingly, for what they pay me, they can come and shout at me all day long. "... The people who came I think walked away, at least half the objectors, feeling they'd had a chance to have their say.
But for a freshman, I can understand that your first town meeting might be a pretty terrifying experience if it's filled with people who've come to bite your head off.
I feel the telephone town halls are wonderful but I don't feel that's a good thing to do at a time like this. For me, when I don't have any particular fussing, any particular issue at the time, it's a good way to figure out who's upset and what they're upset about.