Rep. Donna Edwards, a Democrat who was re-elected in November with nearly 86 percent of the vote in her heavily African-American district, earned a round of applause at the beginning of her town hall forum when she said she would not tolerate any rude behavior.
“You have to be respectful,” Edwards said. “Because I don’t know what’s been going in every place else around the country. But I know that that is not the 4th Congressional district of Maryland.”
She rejected the “hyperbole” and “noise” from health care opponents and told critics in the audience that while the health care system may appear to be in good shape in wealthier communities, “it is broken for millions of Americans.”
During an hour-long question-and-answer session at a public library, Edwards denied that people would be fined for choosing not to purchase health insurance; pledged that undocumented workers will not be covered under a government plan; and said the health care plan will not hurt the majority of the country’s small businesses.
The mostly Democratic crowd shook their heads and muttered to each other when skeptics of the President raised doubts about his health care agenda. The conservatives in the crowd did the same when supporters of the President offered their opinions. But no one was shouted down.
The heated exchanges came after the meeting, when a handful of frustrated constituents griped to reporters that Democrats in Washington are doing too much, too fast on the health care front.
“Barack Obama is taking more time to find a church than he is with Congress putting this thing together,” said Steven Walton of Bowie, Maryland. “Health care is one sixth of the national economy. That’s huge. And they’re throwing it together in a matter of months?”
Mark King of Germantown - who warned that the President is implementing socialist policies - compared himself and other administration critics to those who rallied against King George during the American Revolution.
“If we just reflect a little bit, this is how the country got started - people came to town hall meetings and they expressed their opinions,” King said.
Another man, John Peele of Prince George’s County, made a different historical comparison, likening the Democrats to Nazis and suggesting that Obama is like Hitler because he began his term in office as a well-liked national figure before consolidating power. Peele also questioned Obama’s citizenship.
“It’s national socialism,” Peele said of the administration’s economic plans. “I don’t want national socialism. I want freedom. You don’t want to sign your life over to something that they have total control of.”
All of the health care reform critics at the town hall were residents of the 4th Congressional District and said they had come on their own volition as concerned citizens.
None of them said they had been directed to the town hall by interest groups opposed to health care reform – an allegation levied by top Democrats throughout the week.
However, one Democrat from a neighboring Congressional district, Eunita Winkey, said she had decided to attend the forum after receiving an e-mail from Jason Waskey, the Maryland state director for Barack Obama’s political organization, Organizing for America.