Some people in health care town hall meetings are mad as hell. Many are starting shouting matches, pushing to get in the doors.
Tempers and passions over health care reform are getting so heated one lawmaker got a death threat phoned into his office. It happened to Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC). He spoke to John Roberts on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday.
John Roberts: What was this death threat all about?
Brad Miller: It was last Monday. We’d gotten a lot of calls. I don't think that many offices have gotten fewer calls than we have. I think a lot of offices have gotten threats that were as specific and as credible as the one I got. A caller said that if I supported the health care plan, it could cost me my life.
My staff member who took the call was taken aback and asked them to repeat it and he did. And then he said, “Is that a threat?” And he said there are a lot of angry people. So it’s probably equivocal enough that it won't result in criminal prosecution. But you've seen what has happened in the last week or two. And then there's a lot that hasn't been publicized. Week before last, the Longworth building was shut down for hours because of a bomb threat. They have identified that person. That person probably will be criminally prosecuted.
Roberts: You've decided as a result of the rancor we've been seeing at these town hall meetings not to hold any? You’re going to have health care discussions over teleconference?
Miller: No. I have done a few town hall meetings. I think they are kind of an acquired taste. Most people want to have access to their member of Congress to talk about a specific issue and they really think a one-on-one meeting is more access than a town hall meeting and that's what I've done. So we were puzzled when we started getting calls in the last two weeks demanding a town hall meeting. And my staff would say, “Wouldn't you just like to sit and have a private conversation with the congressman, explain your position and ask him about his?” And they didn't want that. They wanted a town hall meeting. And I think we’ve seen why.
Roberts: What's your sense of what's happening at the town hall meetings, the protests? Is this organic? Are these legitimately people who have concerns about health care reform or is it some sort of organized protest designed to shout you down, shout other members of Congress down and really cause chaos at these meetings and put ideas in people's heads that might not necessarily be true?
Miller: There's some of both. And it's clearly organized from the top … encouraged nationally by conservatives and by the Republican Party. There are a lot of people out in the United States who are very anxious who supported the previous administration, who will never support the Obama administration or Democrats generally.
Roberts: We had this statement that was written on Sarah Palin's blog I guess late last week that the president responded to in some way in his weekly radio address. She posted it on her blog and suggested President Obama will create death panels to decide who does and does not get health care. Newt Gingrich was on one of the Sunday shows with George Stephanopoulos, talking about the potential for euthanasia to possibly wriggle its way into the health care system. What do you think of some of the things that are being said?
Miller: Well I think that’s not what most Americans’ concerns are. They hear that and they know that doesn’t make any sense. That reaches a portion of the right wing base, the people who wanted government to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case. When they made that claim it locked them in place of being against the bill. But most Americans are concerned about what effect it’s going to have on their health care. Is it going to be more expensive, how’s it going to affect the quality. The polling that shows Americans are concerned about the proposal – when you look down deeper into it – what Americans don't like about it, the bill doesn’t do. And what Americans want in a bill – want a proposal to do – is what the proposal does. And if we have that conversation with the American people they will support this proposal. They know something has got to give.
Roberts: Is it all just Republicans who are worried about this, congressman, or are there Democrats that have legitimate concerns, too?
Miller: No I think everybody is worried about this. I think we want to know we're getting it right. Health care is a very important topic for most Americans. Most Americans know they won't be healthy all their lives, that something could go wrong and it could go wrong at any stage of their life.
Roberts: Do you think we're getting it right, the bills that are before Congress right now?
Miller: There's no proposal that's going to be perfect, but yes, I think it does build on the system we've got now. It does set down rules for private insurance companies that they don't have now, that are really less strict than what most states require of automobile carriers, automobile insurance companies. It does require that everybody get in the system and there's no way to make it work unless we do that. And that should begin to get control of health care costs and make sure everybody has it. And you can't lose it.
Roberts: Would you agree this is a make or break month for health care?
Miller: It's hard to say that kind of thing. I think the American people are concerned. They want change and they want to know what the change is. They also see what's going on and they realize how much partisan rancor there is. Americans are put off by this. They have been for a while. The polls have shown that Americans see President Obama reaching out to Republicans, willing to work with Republicans and Republicans unwilling to work with him. I think what we've seen at the town halls and Republican tactics generally have reinforced that.
Roberts: That may be the case in the House but there's plenty of evidence that Republicans do want to work with Democrats in the Senate at the very least. I'm sorry, we're out of time. Thanks for being with us. We really appreciate it. We'll keep following this debate, of course.