Perriello town hall meeting heats up
Health care dominated the debate at the lawmaker's sixth meeting during the August recess.
By Janelle Rucker
BEDFORD -- Tempers flared and emotions were high Saturday morning during a health care-themed town hall meeting hosted by 5th District Rep. Tom Perriello.
About 300 people packed into the cafeteria of Bedford Elementary School for the sixth in a series of town hall meetings that Perriello, the Albemarle County Democrat, is hosting this month.
"Whether you support me or think I'm the dumbest guy on the planet, thanks for coming out," Perriello began the meeting. In the end, the discussion was the "most heated and liveliest" of the town hall meetings so far, he said.
Flustered and frustrated faces filled the crowded room. And while most speakers thanked the congressman for coming and giving them an opportunity to speak, it didn't stop some from heckling and yelling at him and one another.
Because of time constraints, Perriello wasn't able to meet one-on-one with constituents as in previous meetings. But he did take more than two dozen questions and comments from the audience.
Identifying themselves as veterans, retired nurses and caregivers of elderly family members, a majority of the speakers were against the same thing: a health care system run by the federal government.
"We are for health care reform," said Salem resident C.J. Duhon. "We are against more government."
Duhon does not live in Perriello's district, which stretches from Charlottesville south to the North Carolina boarder, but was one of many speakers who felt the topic was important enough to travel to Bedford.
Duhon insisted that there are other ways to reform the health care system that aren't being looked at, but gave no examples.
Others expressed concern about the 2.5 percent tax under the proposed plan on those who don't have insurance. One man suggested that Congress lower taxes so he can afford his health insurance.
Other concerns included increased red tape, mandatory end-of-life plans with government counselors and the government's access to personal bank accounts to ensure payment for services.
"Some [opposition] is genuine, some is misinformation," Perriello said.
Overall, Perriello said he thinks people are taking an ideological stand on the issue and are against government involvement.
As the bill stands now, Perriello said, he's leaning toward voting against it but there still are aspects that can be changed or eliminated.
"I'd like to get to a plan that I can support," he said, admitting that many probably won't agree on the result.
Perriello was one of 22 freshman congressmen who wrote a letter opposing tax penalties for small businesses that don't provide health care to their employees. He said he is against a single-payer system and will not vote on a health care bill that includes federal funding for abortions.
Retired Navy veteran Chuck Bell of Rustburg said he's against "public health care" and promised to walk door to door campaigning against Perriello if he voted for the bill.
"I will consult my constituents, my conscience and do what's best," Perriello said, adding that he's OK if Bell campaigns against him if he disagrees with Perriello's performance. "Let the chips fall where they may."
Like a rally, handmade signs were displayed among the crowd. "If ObamaCare is so great, sign Congress up for it FIRST," read one sign. Those approaching the school were greeted with a sign reading, "Obama's gift to our children: $4 trillion in debt."
The American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the cap-and-trade bill, wasn't discussed as much as health care, but interest was high.
Most in the room were against the energy and climate change bill, and Perriello has come under fire for supporting it.
"I absolutely stand by my vote," he told the crowd that quickly filled the room with boos.
Perriello sees the bill as a step toward energy independence. It includes investments in the use of clean coal and allows farmers to consider growing other crops that could be used in alternative energy production.
The legislation also works specifically for the 5th District, Perriello said, because he sees alternative energy as the "next big thing" for Southside.
The town hall meetings will resume in Greene County on Monday and Charlottesville on Tuesday. He will return to the area Aug. 26 for a town hall meeting in Franklin County.
The meetings are "a monthlong conversation with the American people" about their thoughts on health care, Perriello said. He said he has met some very strong opposition but many can "agree to disagree."