Constituents question Herrera Beutler on health care, CRC

Congresswoman will hold another community coffee Wednesday, May 2

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian assistant metro editor

Published:

Updated: May 1, 2012, 5:55 PM

 

Another community coffee

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler will host another community coffee event 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 2, at the Port of Camas-Washougal, 24 S. A St. in Washougal.

A group of Southwest Washington residents asked their congresswoman about health care for small businesses, the Columbia River Crossing project, the war in Afghanistan and student loan legislation during one of her community coffee events on Tuesday morning at the Tri-Mountain Golf Course in Ridgefield.

About 50 people showed up for the event. They sat around tables as Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, stood at the front of the room, microphone in hand, to answer their questions.

Her first question came from small business owner Jacqueline Kuran of Felida, who pressed Herrera Beutler on health care policy. Kuran said the rising cost of health care is hurting businesses that have to pay to provide their employees with health insurance.

“Why would you kill health care?” Kuran asked. “Why are people dependent upon their job in order to have it? It’s just ludicrous. We should all be entitled to health care. … Why can’t we just have your health care?”

Herrera Beutler said she believes everybody deserves access to health care, but she would take a different approach to making that happen. She said the health care reforms put in place by President Barack Obama are too expensive.

“Here’s one thing I know that we can’t do: make promises we can’t keep,” Herrera Beutler told the group. She then offered a few solutions for improving health care, including allowing small businesses to cross state lines and group together when buying health insurance, reforming Medicare, and offering more health savings account options for people who are young and presumably healthier.

On the Columbia River Crossing project, Herrera Beutler said she wants the federal government to pay as much as possible for the project, which is expected to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River, extend light rail to Clark College, and rebuild freeway interchanges on both sides of the river.

Herrera Beutler said people in Clark County should get to vote on “what the local bridge planners have put together,” and that, “if people in this region want this bridge design to change, yeah, it will take a little bit more time, but it can happen and it doesn’t mean that you have to go back to the beginning.”

Discussion participant Doris Holmes asked Herrera Beutler why she supported cuts to a women’s preventative health fund as a way to pay for a bill to keep student loan interest rates down.

“Why did you do it on the backs of poor women?” Holmes asked.

Herrera Beutler called the women’s health fund in question a “slush fund,” and said it doesn’t truly provide money for women’s health. Her fellow Republicans have also called it a slush fund and have said that Obama’s own budget proposes cutting the fund.

A man who did not provide his name asked Herrera Beutler about the war in Afghanistan, an issue that hits home for him. His son has served in 11 military deployments, he said.

“Can we get out of Afghanistan quickly, and can we even justify our existence there?” he asked.

Herrera Beutler said the United States can justify that war.

“We’ve had men and women who have laid down their lives,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s all been for naught.”

She also said it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan in a way that protects the people left behind. She noted May 2 is the one-year anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, and capturing him was a main reason for entering the war.

“That has been accomplished,” Herrera Beutler said. “It is time (to pull out), and the president is accelerating that.”

Kuran, who asked the question about health care, also grilled Herrera Beutler about why she signed Americans For Tax Reform President Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. According to the reform group’s website, Herrera Beutler has signed the pledge to oppose “any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business” and oppose “any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

Herrera Beutler said her only true pledge is to serve her constituents, and that she’s already supported legislation that contradicts the anti-tax group’s pledge.

“According to that person in D.C., I’ve broken that pledge,” she said of the Norquist agreement.

Members of the crowd on Tuesday morning included state Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, state representative candidate and Republican Julie Olson, and Herrera Beutler’s Democratic challenger Jon Haugen.

Tuesday morning’s get-together marked the 22nd time Herrera Beutler has organized such meetings with constituents over coffee. Telephone alerts informing people about the meetings are sent to residents who live near each meeting location, but anyone can attend.

A media alert about Tuesday morning’s event was sent out by her office at 4 p.m. on Monday.

On Tuesday, discussion participant Troy Maxcy asked: “How are you accessible to the nine-to-five working people? I took the day off to be here.”

Herrera Beutler said she hosts community coffees at varying times in the day, that she also has “telephone town hall” conference calls with constituents, and that Maxcy can sign up on her website to get a notification about the next community coffee taking place in his area.

“When Jaime held giant-sized town halls that were announced far in advance, only a fraction of participants were able to ask questions,” Herrera Beutler’s spokesman, Casey Bowman, said by email Tuesday. “Special-interest groups were able to mobilize members from Portland and Seattle, and shouting and interrupting dominated the event. Local residents told Jaime that they were intimidated and discouraged by this format.”

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics