Timothy Egan has a spot-on editorial in the New York Times about Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ response to President Obama’s State Of The Union speech last Tuesday. McMorris Rodgers, who represents Washington’s fifth congressional district located in the eastern portion of the state, gave the official Republican response–one of seemingly hundreds.
What was striking to Egan is just how poorly she seems to represent her own constituents.
Her district, poorer than the west side of the state, with much of the broken-family, broken-promise poverty of white rural America, is in real trouble. But the policy prescriptions of McMorris Rodgers have nothing to offer these people. Through her, you can see what happens when biography trumps substance in politics.
Consider Stevens County, her home, an area about half the size of Connecticut with fewer than 50,000 people. It’s gorgeous country, hard by the Columbia River, but a hard place to make a decent living. The county’s unemployment rate was 30 percent above the national average last year. One in six people live below the poverty level. One in five are on food stamps. And the leading employer is government, providing 3,023 of the 9,580 nonfarm payroll jobs last year.
Given that picture, it would seem surprising that McMorris Rodgers voted to drastically cut food aid last year, and joined her party in resisting emergency benefits to the unemployed. She has been a leading strategist in the unrelenting Republican attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act.
And yet, in her district, people are flocking to Obamacare — well beyond the national average. Though she has been screening town hall meetings to highlight only critics of the new law, her constituents are doing something entirely different in making their personal health decisions.
In Spokane County, the most populous in the Fifth Congressional District with nearly half a million people, the rate of participation in the new health care law is even well above the state average. At the end of December, signups were 102 percent of the state target. That’s saying something, because Washington, with a big range of insurance choices and a well-run exchange, has been one of the nation’s success stories for the Affordable Care Act.
In her rebuttal speech, McMorris Rodgers told the story of “Bette,” who had written McMorris Rodgers a letter stating that she had “hoped the president’s healthcare law would save her money – but found out instead that her premiums were going up nearly $700 a month.” Proof, according to Rodgers, that “this law is not working.”
It didn’t take long for reporters to track down “Bette,” who is Bette Grenier of Spokane. As with pretty much every other ObamaCare horror story proffered by Republicans, Grenier’s tale of woe didn’t exactly hold up to scrutiny. She could have found less costly alternative plans had she tried, but she admitted that she refused to even consider looking at the exchanges, saying, “I wouldn’t go on that Obama website at all.” And who has demonized the exchanges and encouraged their constituents to avoid them at all costs, even if it means going without health insurance, as Grenier has? Republican representatives such as Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Grenier did write a letter to McMorris Rogers’ office describing her situation and asking for help. Did McMorris Rodgers encourage her to explore all of her options, including the state-run Washington insurance exchange? Of course not.
In his editorial, Ryan goes on to say:
What doesn’t make sense is how McMorris Rodgers is so full of animus toward the leading employer of her county, government. Yes, she protects the Air Force base here, as if it’s not really government, and payments to wealthy wheat farmers. But every other form of federal outlay is demonized.
It gets stranger still when looking at her career. On Tuesday night, she proudly mentioned working in an orchard and a fruit stand as a girl. But since then, she has spent most her adult life in — you guessed it — government. She’s been on a state or federal payroll since graduating from Pensacola Christian College, in the early 1990s.
I always find it odd how conservatives can be so anti-government and yet depend on the taxpayers for their paycheck (and their health care) throughout their lives. I remember talking to a conservative friend who worked for government from the time he left high school until the day he retired. Every time I saw him, he regaled me about the fantastic work his department was doing, how it out-performed his private sector counterparts. Then one day he told me that all government workers are essentially worthless. I replied that I knew of at least one case in which that wasn’t true. He asked who I could be talking about, as though he couldn’t conceive of such a thing. When I explained that it was him, he paused and admitted, “You got me, you’re right.” He also subscribed to the old Ronald Reagan maxim, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” I asked him how, if he felt that way, he could work for such an organization for his entire adult life? Needless to say, I didn’t get much of an answer because, truth be told, he was quite proud of what he did in government. His strongly held conservative, anti-government politics were immune to his own personal experience working in government.
Ryan points out that in her speech, McMorris Rogers offered virtually nothing of substance. McMorris Rogers mentioned that Republicans have “plans,” but she didn’t bother to describe any. Rather, like Republicans are wont to do these days, she fell back upon bumper sticker slogans. Ryan concludes by writing:
Reducing dependence and giving people a way to step up the class ladder are fine goals. And no doubt, broken families and single parents — as the Republican Party has long pointed out — keep many people in poverty. But one way to strengthen families is to help them with the kind of medical debt that forces people onto food stamps or prompts a woman to work two jobs, with no time for her kids.
The reason that large numbers of people here in the home district of Cathy McMorris Rodgers are signing up for the first chance in their lives to get affordable, or even free, health care is because they know something their member of Congress doesn’t. The girl who once picked apples in Kettle Falls can’t see what they see, because she’s committed to a party that won’t allow it.