Along with 130 some other small business owners and self employed people (Democrats, Republicans and Independents) from across the country, I went to Washington yesterday to amplify the voices of those who are among the 58-72% of Americans in support of a public option.
I was excited--and surprised--to hear that Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker agreed to a Tennessee breakfast meeting with myself and four other small business owners. Dr. Mary Stewart David from Dyersburg was one.
Dr. David is an OB-GYN doctor from rural Tennessee who is being forced to close her practice because she cannot afford to insure her employees and recently lost a 40-year old cervical cancer patient who could not get insurance and refused treatment so that her family wouldn't be burdened with the debt. She died last week.
Mark Jacobs, a mill owner from McMinnville TN whose insurance premiums are so high he's been forced to cut his work force in half and may end up closing a family business that has been around for over 120 years. The stories get worse and worse and these hardworking and dedicated entrepreneurs looked forward to sharing their realities with Alexander and Corker.
The superficial solutions like tort reform and tax credits aren't going to help these folks. After all, what is a tax credit to someone sick and unemployed?
Some of us took bets as we walked from the Capitol to the Senate buildings as to whether there would be biscuits and gravy served with the southern breakfast. When we arrived for our 9:00Am meeting, the 'breakfast' consisted of donuts, coffee and orange juice. Not exactly healthy or southern, but no one complained as we were excited to meet with the representatives. The Senators hadn't arrived yet but there were two chairs at the head of the long table and enough space for the five of us to talk comfortably. An encouraging sign.
Within the next 10 minutes, our intimate five person meeting started to grow. As the room doubled, then tripled in numbers, so did my suspicion. Was this a meeting or an "Okeedoke"? Soon there were 10-15 people who entered smiling and making small talk. Affable aids and assistants milled around the room shaking hands and chatting about all things southern--including Mule day in Columbia Tennessee. And I couldn't help noticing that of the nearly two dozen folks in the room, all were white.
At about 9:20 AM our representatives arrived and began a cursory 'howdy do' around the room. The five of us looked at each other--some of us wondering if we'd been had. After making the rounds, the Senators both said a few words and thanked us for letting them serve us, and assured us how proud they were for the honor.
It seems we were part of a down-home Washington tradition they like to call "Tennessee Tuesday". And then, they uttered the folksy phrase I fear summed up the entire meeting: "c'mon everybody let's take some photos".
The Doctor from rural Tennessee never got to tell Senator Corker or Senator Alexander about her practice or her patient who died last week, nor did the man who may be forced to close his family business get an opportunity for a meaningful conversation with the distinguished members from Tennessee. It seems southern hospitality has a down side.
Fortunately for those 58-72% of Americans who voted for (and are demanding) healthcare reform there is another Tennessee representative hard at work. He is the fiscally conservative, blue dog democrat Congressman Jim Cooper who, when we met him at the Capitol, was in the middle of a session combing through the latest health care reform bill in hopes of getting it passed.
Taking time out to meet us in the hallway Rep. Cooper listened to the doctor and the man who may have to close his business because of exorbitant healthcare costs. The man reiterated that reform must stimulate competition and allow everyone access to insurance and, most importantly, needs to happen now--not next year. Patients are dying, employees are leaving or being layed off.
Rep. Cooper listened intently and assured them he was committed to working with others that are determined to make healthcare reform a reality--including a public option.
With Cooper there were no shiny smiles, slaps on the back, donuts or biscuits and gravy, just some good old fashion respect and humility. Cooper doesn't feign to have all the answers and he has taken alot of hits on both sides of the political aisle.
In spite of the TN Governor who is now taking pot shots at the proposed healthcare reform bill, (yes the same governor who dismantled TennCare, the state funded medical insurance program which left 177,000 uninsured) Cooper seems driven to pass meaningful and fiscally responsible health care reform with a public option--ASAP. The question is will he be given the political support to do just that?
Unfortunately for Congressman Cooper and those of us who voted for change in Washington, the opposition he faces is enormous and healthcare reform is being used as a weapon in a lethal game of partisan political warfare.
Cooper knows very well that 58-72% of Americans want robust reform and is keenly aware that 60% of his own district in TN wants a strong public option according to a recent Daily Kos/Research poll.
For those in D.C. threatening to filibuster, obstruct and vote along party lines against real change, you will be remembered and rewarded in the next election And when you wonder why you weren't re-elected, just remember you work for us. Okeedoke?
Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker cancer survivor in nashville TN.