As GOP members of Congress seek to furtively remove healthcare for millions by gutting the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to create tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Congressional Democrats are striking back with HR 676. Authored by Representative John Conyers (D-MI-13), the bill is designed to expand Medicare to cover the basic medical needs for all citizens. However, Representative Sander Levin (D-MI-9), has yet to endorse the bill. A joint effort was staged between the Young Democrats of Michigan and Michigan for Revolution to rally at Levin's truncated town hall meeting in Madison Heights to find out why, and urge him to support HR 676.
A crowd gathered on the hill in front of the Local Plumber's Union 98 building in advance of the meeting, waving signs demanding healthcare for all and that the representative not back any military spending increases. Congressman Levin met with the protesters for fifteen minutes, prior to the start of the town hall. There, he was peppered with questions about why he wouldn't support Medicare for all, single payer or universal healthcare. While Levin did not explicitly refuse support, he stated repeatedly that his goal was to protect ACA and fight the GOP's attempts to eliminate it. "There is a real question of whether or not Levin actually supports Medicare for All in principle, or is just using the ACA as an excuse," said Sam Pernick, organizer for both the Young Democrats and Michigan for Revolution.
Speculation ranged among the petitioners as to why Levin would not back the bill, or the concept of universal healthcare, despite support from fellow Democrats in Congress. One potential reason is that he was one of the legislators who drafted the ACA and had a vested interest in protecting that bill, in particular. During the conversation with constituents outside the meeting, the closest he came to backing universal healthcare was by reintroducing the Public Option, an initial feature of the ACA stripped by Congressional Republicans. Another potential reason is revealed by his campaign finance data. For the 2016 election, Levin received $191,000 from insurance PACs and $154,500 from health professional PACs, which creates over $300,000 in vested interest to maintain the healthcare status quo.
Once inside the meeting, Levin began by addressing the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of Iraqi Christian immigrants. He spoke with the regional director of ICE, who claimed to not know where the order came from, and a verbal agreement between the Trump administration and Iraqi government to accept those deported was cited as a potential catalyst. Levin elaborated that most Chaldean residents arrested were being separated from their families here. The pretense the ICE used for taking them lay in criminal offenses decades in the past, many of which were non-violent drug offenses. The representative finished his speech by stating he will take a strong stance against these deportations, and was met with thunderous applause.
Further concerns were addressed as the Congressman stated his opposition to Trump's proposal to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 billion. He went on to express that "Donald Trump is not a threat because of his personality, he's a threat because of what he stands for," as a segue into his desire to renegotiate the NAFTA deal and reject the Trump budget plan in totality. Worker's rights were a major point of emphasis in Levin's speech, as American workers are being forced to compete with countries that forbid their employees to unionize and force them into wages as low as $2 per hour.
During the Q&A portion of the meeting, pressure to embrace Medicare for All and the concept of universal healthcare ramped up again. Several constituents asked about clarification for his stances, Levin reiterated his desire to protect the ACA and support of a public option. In Levin's view, standing against Trump and the GOP help reveal who Democrats are as a party, and "where they are wrong, we have to be very clear what we stand for."
Some constituents disagreed, and considered universal healthcare a viable rally point. Said one: "We have been missing the mark, in the Democratic party. We have a responsibility to make that [healthcare for all] happen...I have to give my children hope for tomorrow, hope for a future where I may not be there. I have to let them know that we have something, we have a vision, and you are responsible for driving the vision."
While the cheers greeting that particular constituent were not enough to sway Levin, the rallying contingent felt it was a productive first step. Regarding the next step, Sam Pernick said "We have asked Congressman Levin for a 'progressive town hall' to discuss issues critical to the progressive movement and to the democratic party." With a strong showing of popular support, Levin may be convinced.