Eugene town hall generally positive for DeFazio


Reports from across the country depict hostile receptions for members of Congress as they attempt to defend proposed health care legislation at town halls. In Eugene, however, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio received a warm welcome and hearty applause.

Eugene, the largest city in DeFazio’s district, lived up to its left-leaning reputation. Attendees at the meeting at the Eugene Hilton remained largely civil. Rather than call for the representative’s head, Eugeneans sent him a message of support.

“What can we do to help you?” asked one woman who said she “liked everything” DeFazio said at the meeting. Audience members took raffle tickets at the door and were allowed to ask questions when their numbers were called, three at a time.

Many of them were positive. DeFazio even appeared at one point to express disappointment at a crowd that applauded his every talking point, both on health care and on policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the federal stimulus. “Boy, this is a dead crowd,” he said after calling a series of raffle numbers and getting no response.

Most of those called upon expressed support for portions of the health care plans before Congress, including the controversial public option. The even more hotly debated end-of-life provisions in some congressional bills did not factor into the discussion.

But there was dissent.

Though signs with messages in support of proposed health care legislation and other DeFazio policies outnumbered ones that opposed Democratic policies, those opponents were still in present in the audience.

Audience member Sandra Hickey carried a sign that read “Obama Lies, Grandma Dies,” while her husband held one that said “Just Say Nobama.” Hickey said she had attended DeFazio’s meetings throughout the state to protest health care.

“We want DeFazio and the government to realize the way we feel,” Hickey said. “We are American and can’t afford health care, which is crazy. The government shouldn’t be giving it to the illegals when they can’t even give it to us; if we went to Mexico, we wouldn’t be offered health care. “

The cost was the most-cited objection to the legislation. One man in the audience demanded to know how government spending on a number of policies including health care would not cause a “massive tax increase.” His question was greeted with applause.

DeFazio responded by defending his fiscal credentials, specifically his opposition to the Iraq war and his opposition to federal funding for the financial services industry.

When he talked about the cost of health care specifically, he claimed mandatory care would lower costs for those who have health insurance.

Most of all, he blamed health insurance companies for the problems of the health care industry, claiming exceptions for insurance companies in federal antitrust legislation cause “collusion” in the industry. He said insurance companies have great influence in Washington, D.C.

“Everybody’s a little afraid of the insurance industry,” he said.

That message, like most of DeFazio’s, went down well at the meeting, whose crowd filled the seating in the Eugene Convention Center at the Hilton. DeFazio said he changed the venue for the meeting because the turnout exceeded his original expectations, which also happened at many of his other meetings.

“Democracy is alive and well,” he said, addressing the size of the crowd.

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Emerald reporter Alex Zielinski contributed to this report.

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