Saturday, August 29, 2009

Health Care Field Hearing on Monday

From Dallas Morning News:
Republican Reps. Joe Barton of Arlington, Sam Johnson of Plano, and Jeb Hensarling and Pete Sessions of Dallas will host a Congressional health care field hearing on Monday in Richardson.

Panelists include: Eddie McBride, president of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce; Christopher Crow, a doctor at Village Health Partners in Plano; Joel Allison, president and CEO of Baylor Health Care Systems; and Judge Glen Whitley from Tarrant County, first vice president of the National Association of Counties.
Where: Eisemann Center at 2351 Performance Dr. in Richardson
When: Monday, August 31, 7:00 p.m. (Doors open at 5:00 p.m.)
The event is free and open to the public

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pete Sessions Praises Ted Kennedy

From Dallas Morning News:
Of the hundreds of sentiments from Capitol Hill mourning the loss of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, among the most poignant comes from Rep. Pete Sessions...

"I am deeply saddened by his passing and most appreciative of his work on behalf of people with special needs," Sessions said in a statement.

"Without Senator Kennedy's leadership in the Senate, this bill [the Family Opportunity Act] would not have become law," Sessions said. "A fierce advocate of the liberal cause, Senator Kennedy will be remembered most for his ability to reach across party lines and work to get things done."
In 2001, Pete Sessions introduced The Family Opportunity Act alongside one of the most liberal members of Congress, Henry Waxman (CA-30). From Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law:
February 28, 2001-Legislation to give many more children with serious disabilities access to needed health and mentalhealth services was reintroduced this month by Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA)and Representatives Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Henry Waxman (D-CA).

The Family Opportunity Act of 2001 (S. 321 and H.R. 600) is also referred to as the Dylan Lee James Act, in honor of a little boy with Down syndrome who lived in Representative Sessions' district in Texas. He lost Medicaid coverage when his father received a $3,000 bonus. The bill targets the huge gap in coverage faced by families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, lack employer health coverage or have private insurance with inadequate mental health benefits.
Which brings us back to the questions that's been asked so many times on this blog: if Pete Sessions could support that bill, why the vehement opposition to a plan allowing anyone to buy into a public health insurance plan?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pete Sessions on health care: tell the President

One of the reasons members of Congress conduct town hall meetings is to listen and compile a list of constituent concerns and take that information back to Washington on our behalf. But when a woman told Pete Sessions about the cost of her husband's liver transplant anti-rejection medicine, he inexplicably told her to go to one of Obama's town hall meetings and tell her problems to the President!

CBS-11 did a story about her, called Falling Through The Cracks Of Health Care Debate; our video and transcript (from the Irving town hall meeting) follows:

Constituent: Thank you for giving us an opportunity to discuss this issue.
Sessions: Yes, ma’am.
Constituent: And Congressman, I respect the fact that you have a family member with special needs, and you would do anything you can to make sure that that person in your family is taken care of. I want to tell you my story about someone in my family who I care deeply about, who’s falling through the cracks of our current system and why I think having a public option is so important. Can I do that?
Sessions: Yes, ma’am. Absolutely. That’s why you’ve been invited down…
Constituent: Thirteen years ago, my husband was diagnosed with liver failure. He was told he needed a transplant to live. Nine months later, he received his transplant. Now, if my story stopped there and was only about health care it would be a wonderful story about how our country is admired around the world for the type of health care we receive. However, my story is not about our health care. My story is about health coverage, pre-existing conditions, and falling through the cracks in the system as it stands. My husband’s a semiconductor engineer, he made six figures a year, we were as middle class as anybody wants to be. And last Fall, when the economy collapsed, he lost his job. Now, we had the choice of staying on COBRA, and at the time, as you recall, at that time was $1500.00 a month for our family.
Sessions: Yes, ma’am.
Constituent: Okay. His insurance just for him, if I took myself and my two children off, was going to be over $600.00. The medicine to keep a liver transplant alive, without insurance, was going to cost me $700 a month. Now, unemployment was only $1500 a month, and we still had rent, and food, and utilities and everything else. Now, when the new administration came in and the stimulus package came through, we were able to get our—for nine months—insurance reduced. But at the end of those nine months, we’re back up to $1500 and our unemployment is gonna run out. There are no jobs to be had, especially jobs with insurance. The only people that are hiring now are hiring contract labor. Contract labor, they’re not required to insure; it’s a loophole in the business system. Now, without the medication, my husband is going to die. We’re already lost our home, we had to sell our car, I’ve had to cut as many expenses as I can possibly cut, in order to keep my husband alive. Alive. It isn’t a matter of—y’know, people are saying, “Well, why don’t you just go get Medicare.” He doesn’t qualify for Medicare. He’s healthy! He’s been post transplant for almost—
Sessions: He’s probably not old enough—
Constituent: — fifteen years —
Sessions: —for Medicare.
Constituent: He’s 54 years old. He’s not old enough. So we are in this black hole where, y’know, without the public option, all this bill does is say everybody has to be covered. If there’s no cost savings on anybody from the…for the insurer, there’s no incentive to make the insurance companies cover us at the same rate that anybody else gets, and all I’m asking for—I’m not asking anybody to take their insurance away from them. I’m just saying I am an American citizen, I deserve the same amount of insurance that anybody else gets… (applause) …we pay taxes…
Sessions: Thank you, and I think you’ve spoken very well.
Constituent: And I truly would like to know, why aren’t you on this? Please.
Sessions: I’ll tell you why I’m not on the bill. I’m not on the bill because people need to speak to the President when he goes around the country and to say, “Mr. President, let’s not do a trillion six hundred billion dollar. Let’s aim where the problem is, and let’s help people and let’s go…(audio drowned out by applause)…this President…this President was told that in thirteen days, he spent more money than George Bush spent in two wars for seven years, Katrina and New York City with 9-11…(cheers and applause)…and…that a person who is gonna be President has to be responsible for the national debt that is taking place that is killing jobs in this country…(unintelligible exchange between Sessions and Constituent, drowned out by applause)…and this President needs to hear from you and others so that he goes back and does something about the problem, not over everybody in here and ruining Medicare. (Cheers and applause from audience). And I—I as a member of Congress am trying to say, I have—I have open town hall meetings. I initiated the meeting with Eddie Bernice Johnson. I openly will say to anybody, including the President, “Mr. President, listen to people, go do something about the problem, don’t try to take over a government run health care plan…(cheers and applause)…I have great empathy. I really do. It doesn’t take a lot for me to figure out, and I started my career working as a paperboy. I worked every day, never missed a day of work when I worked in the private sector and I’ve gotta work for a living now, too. And I know all but for probably five genes that any of us have that are wrong it could be us that would be there, too. I, too, understand that. I’m not a mean, cold-hearted person. But the American public is also kind and generous, but don’t pick on everybody. (applause) Go and find the problem. So I would say that a group of people who were here from all the organizations need to go back and do a huddle with the President, and the President is a great salesman. But he is getting his clock cleaned (wild cheers and applause obscure audio)…dialogue with the President. And I’m very open to having dialogue with anybody here. Please aim for the problem. I would love to have you say to the President, “Mr. President, what we’re trying to sell is not working.” It’s not! You just can’t argue that case. But you still have needs, and we still have a problem, and Sessions agrees with that. Let’s solve the problem. Thank you very much.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pete Sessions Answers the Blimp Question (sort of)

A Sessions Watch team member from Oak Cliff (who we'll refer to as KP, for Kessler Park) attended last night's town hall meeting in Irving, and filed this report. For the benefit of those who want to see the blimp question first, we've put the video of Pete Sessions' answer at the top of the post. The transcript is at the bottom of KP's report:

Last night's town hall meeting took place in the gymnasium of Ranchview High School with the audience sitting on bleachers, which was an appropriate setting for what turned out to be more of a pep rally for Pete Sessions than anything of substance. Sessions Watchers who want to know how he keeps winning should go to one of these things. Pete Sessions can give the most non-sensical-non-answer you've ever heard, and receive thunderous applause and wild cheers. It's an amazing spectacle, for anyone with a brain.

I arrived an hour early to take pictures of some of the protesters outside; one person on the tea party side asked, "Are you a good guy or a bad guy?" I said, "I'm a good guy, because I'm taking pictures of signs from both sides of the debate." But seriously, as the song say, "There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's only you and me, and we just disagree."

The atmosphere inside the gym was reminiscent of the highly charged, hyper-partisan 2004 debates between him and Martin Frost. Back then, Sessions got NATO confused with the U.N.; compared the September 11 tragedy to "a home game" that we lost; and gave the wrong name for his own website--several times--on live TV, giving the opposition a chance to buy the domain name for an anti-Sessions website. (It also came out during the campaign that he streaked in college, then gave an interview to the press afterwards, using his real name! No big deal, really, except that the whole purpose of streaking was to do it spontaneously and anonymously, hence the term "streak." A streaker was supposed to be an unidentified naked blur, but he had to go an give an interview. Gee whiz, even when doing harmless pranks, he can't get it quite right!) But no matter what he said, every gaff, blunder and scatterbrained answer won him standing ovations from his supporters, for the simple reason that he was the Republican.

From the audience response to his answers last night, it's clear that times haven't changed any for the pro-Sessions crowd. We can watch him, pointing out his flip-flops and errors in judgement, but there's a slight majority of people in this district who just think Pete Sessions is the best Congressman ever, for reasons that elude the rest of us. If he did nothing more than read a list of names out of a phone book, ending with the word "freedom," his diehard supporters would cheer and applaud, proclaiming it the best speech he's ever given.

Just about every question was about health care last night, and, to Sessions' credit, he began the town hall by asking for people who disagreed with him to come to one of the two microphones, set up on opposite sides of the floor, and asked the audience to be polite. Interestingly enough, when people gave testimonies about how their insurance companies had let them down, there was huge applause from the audience, even from those who claim they don't want "government" having anything to do with health care. Sessions told several people with complaints about access to affordable health care to "tell it to the President," which kind of defeats the purpose of a town hall with your Congressman, doesn't it? Isn't he supposed to be our advocate in Washington? In answer to several consumer complaints about health insurance, he also explained that insurance regulation is an issue for the states, not Congress. But isn't state regulation a form of "government control of health care?" And as Pete Sessions has said many times, he wants people to be able to buy health insurance across state lines, which would then call for federal regulation, right? Some of his ideas have some loose ends that are a bit hard to tie up.

Towards the end of the town hall, though, he actually offered to help one woman who complained of high prescription drug bills--from what she said, it's likely that she falls into the Medicare Part D "donut hole," one of the problems with the bill that made several Republicans object to it, leading to Tom DeLay's infamous arm-twisting and keeping the vote open 'til 3:00 am. I would be interested to hear a follow-up from that woman, to see if he can really do anything for her, and if he'll vote on legislation to close that huge gap in prescription drug coverage.

Pete Sessions allowed one person on the "tea party" side to read a litany of objections to H.R. 3200 (published by Dick Armey's group Freedomworks) which have been refuted in several blogs and publications. One item on her list, which drew yells of affirmation from the audicence, was a charge that the bill allows illegal aliens to benefit--but Section 246 of the bill says it plain as day:

Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.
For all their yelling at the opposition to "read the bill," they apparently haven't taken their own advice! I was disappointed, though not surprised that Pete Sessions didn't correct her; surely Republicans have objections to the bill as written without making stuff up that isn't in there.

And then, someone asked the question we've all been waiting for--why a blimp? One man asked Pete Sessions about the blimp project, in a roudabout way, asking how the project would benefit North Texas, why the Illinois company (which had never actually made a blimp before) was picked, and what was accomplished from the forty thousand dollar engineering study. The audience tried to shout down the question, but Pete Sessions very graciously said, "Thank you very much, you asked a question and you're entitled to an answer," and went on to make this statement (this is directly transcribed from the video tape, and is unedited):
The appropriators had it for over a year before they brought it to the floor. The appropriators knew that the United States Army and Air Force is in fact looking for the opportunity to take massive amounts of weight from the United States to the theater. Blimps are much like the hydroplanes that the Marine Corps went to where they've got hovercraft. And they spend seventy-eight thousand gallons taking two tanks overseas on an aircraft. This would accomplish sixteen tanks for three gallons. The forty thousand dollars that was spent on the engineering study before they asked for it was looked at by the Air Force and the Air Force is interested in this and you watch what happens. Thank you so very much.
The overwhelmingly pro-Sessions audience greeted this statement with wild cheers and applause, on a par with the kind Oprah Winfrey gets when she tells her audience, "Look under your chairs...!" But his answer raised more questions than it answered. Interesting about the 40-thousand dollar engineering study, but the whole amount steered towards Jim G. Ferguson Associates was $1.6 million. Sessions also used a fake Dallas address for the company, making it look like a local project. Why did he do that? Is the company planning to relocate to North Texas? Though he did answer one of our questions, "Why a blimp" by explaining that the Air Force is considering dirigibles for transportation of supplies overseas, he did not explain why this company in particular is so well-suited for the contract, especially since they have no prior experience in manufacturing blimps. And, Pete Sessions placed this earmark into the appropriations bill himself, so what's the connection between him and this company? Is it former aide Adrian Plesha, who is now a lobbyist for the company? If it's a good project with no "funny business" attached to it, shouldn't he be featuring it front and center as a clean energy and cost-saving initiative instead of running away from the question?

Towards 8:30 p.m., even the diehard Sessions fans were leaving the gym, so I left, too. There was still a long line of people waiting to talk to him, so I hope he makes good on a promise he made at the beginning of the evening to do more town halls during the August recess. May I suggest Mountain View College?

Thanks, KP, for the report and video. Sessions Watch will follow Pete Sessions' advice and "watch what happens" with the blimp story.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Town Hall Blog

If you have pics and video of tonight's event, post the link to your blog, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc, into the comment section of this post. You may also use the comments section as a debate forum; thank you, in advance, for conducting yourselves in a respectful manner, and discussing disagreements without resorting to name calling, threats or abusive language.

Tonight's Town Hall: We've got questions!

To help our readers prepare for tonight, Sessions Watch has compiled a list of questions from our team members, readers and commenters. We'd like someone to ask these questions and report back with Pete Sessions' answer; we framed the questions in a way that fits into "sound bite" format, and that is unlikely to have your question shouted down by anybody who's come ready for a fight. The questions are also framed to guide Pete Sessions into giving a straight answer without veering off on a tangent, if that's even possible. Our wording is meant as a guide, but please feel free to put our questions into your own words:

Q: Last year, you submitted a request to the House Appropriations Committee for $1.6 million dollars to a dirigible company in Chicago. How many jobs are they bringing to North Texas? (h/t readers Jim, TRNF, Ed C; writer David Smith of The Examiner, and Sessions Watch team members in the southern portion of the district).

For Sessions Watch, this is the most important question we want answered; it's this kind of earmark that inspired us to start the blog in the first place. Team members who used to be represented by Martin Frost in the old 24th Congressional District regularly saw tax dollars coming back home, especially in the form of roads, bridges and other infrastructure project that directly benefitted the District. Pete Sessions, on the other hand, seems more interested in serving lobbyists than us; while he'll probably never be caught doing anything illegal, Pete Sessions often legislates in a way that does not serve the district, and he most always gets away with it, earning him the nickname "Teflon Pete." Now, with health care at the forefront, this issue's about to slide off, too. David Smith of The Examiner has promised to keep asking that question, but it would be great to have it asked by a constituent. Anyone?

Q: Thank you for being a co-sponsor of H.R. 1207, to audit the Federal Reserve. Now that there are 282 co-sponsors, how soon will it come up for a vote? (h/t John Peterson and reader Lisa who heard Dennis Kucinich explain the bill on Thom Hartmann's show). Those who haven't heard about this can listen to Dennis Kucinich explain the bill and the history of the Federal Reserve at this link: Dennis Kucinich on Thom Hartmann show, re: H.r. 1207. This is an important bill that's really slid under the radar, and is an example of bipartisanship at its best. The question is designed to guide Pete Sessions into talking about working together with the other side, nudging him away from portraying Democrats as "the enemy."

Q: Reader MT sent this along to a Sessions Watch team member via email, but unfortunately it has erroneous information. First the question, then the analysis: Since you voted in favor of Net Neutrality in 2006, will you support the Internet Freedom Act of 2009? That's wishful thinking on your part, MT. The 2006 bill you're thinking of, the Network Neutrality Act of 2006 was referred to the Subcommittee for Telecommunications and the Internet, and never came up for a floor vote. It would be worth asking, though, where he stands on Internet neutrality, since this issue has come up before, regarding his ties to the telecommunications industry who oppose such legislation. (Before running for Congress, Pete Sessions was a phone company executive for Southwestern Bell, and continues to receive large contributions from telecommunications lobbyists). If anyone wants to ask his position on Network Neutrality, have at it, but please do some research first.

And now, to health care:

Q: In a previous town hall meeting, you said that you do not receive government health care. As a consumer, I'm looking for a different plan, and I'd like to know where you shop! (h/t Nancy) This is meant to present consumer choice of health care plans in a humorous light, and to guide Pete Sessions towards an explanation of Congressional health care compensation. The Sessions Watch team thinks that in saying he doesn't receive "government health care," he means that he picks Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, Cigna, or one of the other private plans offered under the Federal Employees Benefit Plan. So technically, it's "private insurance," but since taxpayers fund his benefits, it's technically also a "government plan!"

Q: Your Republican colleague in the House, Joe Barton, recently chastised insurance industry executives on the policy of rescission, dropping customers' policies after they become sick. Do you agree with Congressman Barton that this is a bad business practice, and what is the role of Congress, if any, in ending this practice? (h/t Sessions Watch readers and team members who found the video of Joe Barton at the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on ending the practice of rescission). The wording of the question is to highlight the issue of rescission, getting it past the automatic boo-ers by mentioning that a member of the Republican party considers this to be a bad business practice. Hopefully, it will also guide Pete Sessions towards agreeing that rescission is a bad practice, and give him an opportunity to tell us his ideas on government's role in regulating businesses that engage in practices which hurt consumers.

Good luck to all town hall attendees; be sure to take pictures, write blogs, and post links to your work in the comments section of the town hall blog, which we'll set up beforehand.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Charting America's Health Care Future--a joint town hall with Pete Sessions and Eddie Bernice Johnson

This morning, Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) and Pete Sessions held what was probably the country's most civil--and most tightly controlled--town hall forum on health care. Access was limited, with just over 300 tickets available on a first-come-first-served basis, with notices sent out via email and local media. Originally planned for a meeting room at SMU, the event was moved to Cityplace to accommodate a larger crowd; still, there were only about 325 people in attendance, with a promise of video streaming for those who did not get tickets.

Sessions Watch received some of the rare tickets for the event, which was co-sponsored by Curran Tomko Tarski LLP. We were invited to submit questions ahead of time to the co-sponsor's website, and our questions were compiled and presented to Mr. Sessions and Ms. Johnson in turn by Cal Jillson, professor of political science at SMU, who moderated the panel.

Our Sessions Watch group sat together in nervous anticipation, wondering, "Will this be the day Pete Sessions surprises us with rational thought, coherence, and statesman-like brilliance?" We all secretly hope that one day, Pete Sessions will dazzle us with some really great ideas, that one day we'll finally see what the slim majority of people in the district see in him when they faithfully cast their votes for him every two years.

But today wasn't that day. Pete Sessions was his usual self, delivering a few catch phrases--most notably "free market"--without any new ideas, and without acknowledging what most people feel across all party affiliations, that the free market has done a poor job of delivering access to health care to all Americans.

Cal Jillson began the panel discussion by giving a brief bio of each Representative; in his introductory remarks about Pete Sessions, he mentioned the Family Opportunity Act, but that never came up again in the Q&A portion (Sessions Watch submitted a question that came up in our comments section, asking if Pete Sessions would support allowing the uninsured to buy into Medicare, since he sponsored a bill allowing those with Down's Syndrome children to buy into Medicaid; our question was not one of the ones picked).

Following Cal Jillson's introduction, both Representatives gave a brief statement about health care reform.

Eddie Bernice Johnson went first, talking about the rising cost of insurance premiums, which, she said, are rising three times faster than inflation, and how we have a moral obligation to provide access to everybody and keep people from "falling through the cracks of a broken health care system." She gave a brief overview of the three sections of the bill currently in the House, and assured the audience that she has read everything in all three sections.

Pete Sessions used his time to talk about what the GOP has accomplished over the past 12 years, including expanded funding for the National Institutes of Health, the Medicare Part D drug plan for seniors, and Health Savings Accounts, which allow people to save for their own health care in a tax free savings account.

(Sessions mentioned the Health Savings Account in glowing terms, several times during the course of the panel discussion. He sees it as a way for people to "own" their health care and keep it from job to job, but doesn't seem to realize is that even if a person who pays into it regularly might not have saved up enough money for "surprises"--an emergency heart bypass, for instance, which runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

He went on to outline what he sees as problems with the proposed House bill, but soon became bogged down into his own tangled logic; on the one hand, he worries that the bill focuses too much on what's working--employer-based health coverage--instead of the real problem, covering more people. But in the next breath, he started talking about how there aren't enough physicians to cover everybody who's not currently insured, and got sidetracked talking about how specialists would have to leave their practices to become primary care physicians in order to accommodate all of the formerly uninsured. (A lot of health care advocates think that would be a good thing, to have more primary care physicians diagnosing and treating illness early, instead of waiting until a specialist is the patient's only option). Pete Sessions also expressed concern about people not being able to choose their own doctor under a Public Option plan, without addressing the problem of PPOs, where your favorite doctor may not be on the list provided by the insurance company.

The first question presented by Cal Jillson was about portability; both agreed that people should be able to keep the same coverage when they change jobs, with Eddie Bernice Johnson talking about the benefits of the proposed House bill, which would offer a range of plans in an "insurance exchange marketplace," which would offer low group rates to participants. Pete Sessions countered with his plan for everybody to be able to buy into "bigger pools," where every association, church group, business, etc., could buy into a group insurance plan. "The free market should have a chance," he said, without acknowledging that the free market has been delivering health care for decades without coming up with a streamlined, cost-effective system where everybody has coverage.

The second question focused on what to do about people who are denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Cal Jillson addressed the question first to Pete Sessions, asking him if the market would provide health care to those with pre-existing conditions.

"The market should," he said assertively, "move towards covering pre-existing conditions." He suggested that people with pre-existing conditions could be covered by "coming in to fill out some paperwork" and "paying a little bit more." (That comment elicited the first groan from an otherwise silent audience). He went on to repeat what he had said before, about getting more people to buy insurance by creating "bigger pools" (which, incidentally, sounds a lot like the House plan for an "insurance marketplace").

Eddie Bernice Johnson spent her time talking about how a good health care plan should cover wellness, saying that current insurance plans only cover catastrophic expenses instead of the cost of managing chronic illnesses. She highlighted the success of community clinics, which educate people on managing such chronic illnesses as diabetes. People using the community clinics see a doctor regularly, which, she said, is more cost effective than waiting until a chronic condition gets out of control.

The next question covered Public Option and/or Co-ops to compete with private insurance.

Congresswoman Johnson talked about people unable to get coverage, due to pre-existing conditions, as well as those who have been "priced out of the market" for health insurance; she stressed the need to get them into a group plan where they can't be turned down.

Congressman Sessions loudly proclaimed such a plan "Socialized medicine," and seemed startled when the audience erupted in laughter!

At this point, the two members of Congress actually had an exchange, without the help of the moderator. Ms. Johnson reminded Mr. Sessions that when people go to emergency rooms, we all pay. "We taxpayers pick that up," she said.

Pete Sessions agreed that quality health care is important, saying "People don't get healthcare through insurance like they should. We want more and more people to have insurance!"

Just when it was getting good, the moderator stopped them in order to finish the questions attendees had submitted. The audience responded with calls for them to continue their exchange, but Cal Jillson asked for everyone to settle down and proceed with his list of questions.

Sessions said of Eddie Bernice Johnson, "We have a great relationship."

"Sure we do," said Eddie Bernice Johnson, which got another huge laugh from the audience.

Back to the question of co-ops, Sessions said no to that idea, saying, "We don't need to create anything new." Then, he went off on one of his famous circuitous tangents, on the topic of personal responsibility. He went off on a wild hypothetical situation in which someone would enter the emergency room after getting drunk or doing drugs on a Friday night, "Then," he said, "Somebody has to call an ambulance." He concluded his missive by saying that people need to exercise "personal responsibility," a statement which got weak applause from about 10 people.

Eddie Bernice Johnson looked at him and said, "I don't know how to respond to that." Just about everybody in that room erupted in laughter and applause! Then, she went on to explain that ambulances don't just come on Friday night, they come every day, reiterating her point about people avoiding wellness care because it's not covered by their insurance plan. "If insurance would cover people at a reasonable cost, we wouldn't be here," she said. Congresswoman Johnson went on to tell of the history of Medicare, and how it took twenty years to get it passed, saying "anything for people is hard to come by."

On the question of cost, Eddie Bernice Johnson talked about tax incentives to businesses who provide insurance, and stated one problem with the current system is that insurance companies don't want to take any risk, preferring to insure only healthy young people who don't get sick.

Pete Sessions told us about Health Savings Accounts again, saying "The free market works and works well."

The final question was about physician-owned hospitals; both Representatives agreed that in Texas, at least, physician-owned facilities are working well. (In other parts of the country, there have been problems with physicians ordering too many unnecessary tests to get more money from insurance companies, but both assured us that the Texas delegation is satisfied with the physician-owned facilities in our state).

"I'm all for creative financing," Eddie Bernice Johnson said, "because the last administration really made us broke."

The panel discussion with the members of Congress ended at 10:00 a.m., and was followed by a community panel discussions, with people representing hospitals and insurance companies talking about the need for reform. Sessions Watch didn't stay for that portion of the event, but if any of our commenters stayed, please feel free to share your thoughts about it in the comment box.

Before the event, Cal Jillson told us that this town hall is the only one in the country where a Democrat and a Republican have held a joint town hall; despite what appeared at first to be an overly-controlled ticketing system, it went very smoothly and there's no reason why this town hall couldn't be a model for others across the country.

The need for health care reform affects everyone, regardless of party affiliation. When your insurance company drops you because you got sick, they're not going to ask you if you're a Democrat or a Republican. To them, covering your illness is a "loss" that they have to cut. So isn't it time we stopped the screaming and started working together?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Town Hall Wednesday--Change of location

To accommodate a larger crowd, Wednesday's Town Hall meeting has been moved to the following location:

Ranchview High School
8401 Valley Ranch Pkwy
Irving, Texas 75063

Pete Sessions' office requests that people RSVP . Constituents of the 32nd District of Texas are invited to attend the Irving Town Hall Meeting. For more information or to RSVP, please contact Congressman Sessions' Dallas District Office at 972.392.0505. The time is the same, 7:00-8:30 p.m.

No need to worry about disruptive behavior from groups like Glenn Beck's 912 Project or other people hopped up on caffeine from drinking all that tea; sources in other parts of the country tell Sessions Watch that those "screamer" groups are only targeting districts with representatives from the Democratic Party.

They're also starting to tone it down, after seeing themselves on YouTube spouting nonsensical misinformation about "death panels," shouting down cancer patients who've been denied insurance coverage, and generally making complete idiots of themselves. So take a deep breath, y'all, bring a friend, and come on out to the town hall. To help you prepare, we'll post a list of questions you've been asking in the comments area in "sound bite" format--and remember, it's not just a town hall about health care, you can ask anything.

UPDATE: In answer to the most-often asked question, yes, Democrats in TX-32 should attend these town hall meetings. A Democrat who attended the Richardson town hall meeting reported that the political make-up of the audience reflected that of the District, with Republican-leaning questions at approximately 55% and Democratic-leaning questions at 45%.

Remember, even with creative gerrymandering, this is not a heavily Republican district, so come on out Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party and everything in between! Even though he won't vote for your interests, Pete Sessions needs to hear from you!

Who knows? Pete Sessions might get tired of hearing from people who don't agree with him and decide he doesn't want to be a Congressman anymore, which is one of our goals at Sessions Watch--helping him decide that the job he really wants is with the Boy Scouts, the National Association for Down Syndrome, or some place where he doesn't have to hear from people like us! It could happen! So, yes, do come on out, everybody, and ask your question.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Town Hall Video and Commentary

Sessions Watch would like to thank regular commenter and Republican precinct chair John Peterson for his video of Pete Sessions' introductory remarks at Thursday's town hall meeting; John also wrote an article about the meeting, which provides a good summary for those who missed it.

John's working on activating the comments section of his blog; if you comment, please be respectful--John's putting his real name out there, unlike Sessions Watch, which is a group of what we refer to as "Congressional mystery shoppers."

Until John's comment box is activated, please feel free to comment here.

The video and article are available at this link: Pete Sessions Town Hall Meeting Summary.

UPDATE: Another report from Richardson is available at Ed Cognoski's blog:

And, for the benefit of the Republican club in Park Cities who requested it, here's the video clip of another Texas Republican, Joe Barton, asking the insurance industry execs if they felt bad that people die because of their policy of rescission. It's worthwhile viewing, and a reminder that the real fight for reform is not between Democrats and Republicans, but between the American people and a for-profit health care industry that's become too greedy:

The complete list of articles about last night's meeting are as follows:

by David Smith, The Examiner

Sessions discusses health care proposal in Richardson by John Nielsen, Dallas Morning News

Last Night, Pete Sessions Turned Health Care Debate Into an Easy-to-Swallow Pill by Kimberly Thorpe, Dallas Observer

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Town Hall Blog

If you have pics and video of tonight's event, post the link to your blog, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, etc, into the comment section of this post. Interesting observations will be highlighted in the next blog post.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings with Pete Sessions

Right after Sessions Watch posted a diary asking about Pete Sessions' plan for health care, we got two emails, one from Park Cities Democrats (see comments in previous post), and this one from a Republican Sessions Watcher, telling about two upcoming town hall meetings. (*sigh* Sessions Watch is always the last to know):
I saw this on Pete Sessions' website:

Richardson Town Hall Meeting
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
7:00pm – 8:30pm

Richardson Civic Center/City Hall • Grand Hall
411 W. Arapaho Road
Richardson, TX 75080

Irving Town Hall Meeting
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
7:00pm – 8:30pm
Irving City Hall
825 W. Irving Blvd
Irving, Texas 75060

It says you have to RSVP, but for town hall meetings, I think we can just show up, can't we?: "For more information or to RSVP, please contact Congressman Sessions’ Dallas District office at 972.392.0505." After reading about Lisa's experience, I'm nervous about calling the office! lol! Not really, but can't we just show up without an RSVP? With our schedules, I never know 'til the last minute if we can go to things like this.
Yes, you can attend without an RSVP. Town hall meetings are open to anyone in TX-32--and, actually, anyone outside the district can attend, too. Sessions Watchers from the 32nd have attended town hall meetings with our neighboring districts Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), Kenny Marchant, (TX-24) and Sam Johnson (TX-3). No one ever asked for an RSVP, and all seemed to enjoy "playing to a full house."

If anybody goes, please take pics & post on your blog, facebook account or whatever, and post the link in the most recent comment box. We still don't have an email account for this blog; right now, individuals just collect emails and pass along the information or post anything that needs attention into the most recent comment box.

When election season heats up, we'll get one email address for everything, and make sure someone's available to check it at least once a week.

So, Pete, What's your Health Care Plan?

Several Sessions Watchers have sent this link to Pete Sessions' rant against the health care reform proposals currently in the House and Senate:
“During a deep recession and historic 9.5 percent unemployment, unaffordable health care only deepens the financial and personal crises many American families are facing today. Yet the Majority has produced a job-killing, government-mandated health care plan financed on the backs of every American family, senior citizen, small business and employer. With a price tag of over $1 Trillion dollars, the Democrats’ plan would cut Medicare options for seniors and raise taxes on any employer or individual who does not embrace a government-run health care program...
What he fails to tell us, of course, is that he and every member of the House and Senate enjoy "government-run health care" that sounds sort of like what's being proposed--a menu of private insurance plans at a group rate that would spread out the risk pool by including everybody in the country. A public option would be included, to keep the private insurers honest, if nothing else, making them actually do what we pay them to do, instead of boosting profits by kicking sick people off the rolls.

Sessions Watcher Lisa, a self-identified political independent, wants to know what Pete Sessions would propose as a health care reform measure. She sends this message to fellow Sessions Watchers:
Is anybody going to one of Pete Sessions' town hall meetings when he gets back to the District? If so, can you ask him about health care? I don't want to, because Pete Sessions scares me!!
lol! Lisa goes on to recount a time in 2006 when somebody asked a health care question:
It was a moderated town hall meeting with Pete Sessions and Will Pryor. It wasn't a debate, exactly, because they didn't talk to each other. They went one at a time, with people from the audience submitting questions for the candidates, which were read by the moderator. Pete Sessions went first. Towards the end of his time, the moderator read a question someone wrote, thanking Pete Sessions for the Family Opportunity Act, which allowed parents of kids with Downs Syndrome to buy into Medicaid. The moderator went on to read the rest of it, asking if he would also support a bill in Congress that would allow anyone to buy into Medicare...
(The bill she's referring to is H.R. 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act). So what happened when Pete Sessions heard that question? Tell us, Lisa:
He went ballistic!! He turned all red in the face, and yelled "Who wrote that??" He stared at the audience like a teacher would if someone threw a spit ball or something. There was some nervous seat-shifting, but nobody spoke up! He went on a rant about how the Family Opportunity Act only benefitted low income families, how he didn't personally benefit--and whoever wrote the question never said he benefitted. He angrily denounced any program that would expand the Medicare program, and kept demanding that the person who wrote the question stand up and talk to him about it. Well, nobody was going to admit to having written the question after he blew up like that! The moderator kind of gave a nervous laugh, and suggested that the person who wrote the question could ask him about it in private at the close of the Town Hall. Pete Sessions agreed to do that, but he left! As soon as Will Pryor got up there to answer questions, Pete Sessions took off! I can't remember what Will Pryor's reaction was, but he took that question before taking the ones directed specifically to him, saying that he didn't know about the bill, but said that if he was in Congress, he's look at it and see if it was feasible, and so forth--you know, the way a real Congressman should answer a question, without getting all mad about it!!!!
When Pete Sessions comes home during the August recess, Lisa would like for some brave soul among us to ask him what his plan is for healthcare reform. Lisa doesn't go to his town hall meetings anymore, because, as she said, she's afraid of him! One last word from Lisa:
Looking back, it's kind of funny, because at the time, Pete Sessions had just put this thing on his website calling Democrats "unhinged"! lol! I guess it takes one to know one. :)
Volunteers, anyone?