Outraged seniors turned Rep. Michael Grimm’s first Bay Ridge town hall meeting on Wednesday night into an angry revolt against his and the Republicans’ effort to kill Medicare by shouting down the freshman legislator — stopping him from getting through his prepared remarks.
Grimm (R-Bay Ridge) began a slide show about the GOP plan to trim the nation’s $14-trillion deficit, but couldn’t get past his second slide when several seniors began demanding higher taxes on the well-to-do rather than the Republican-led dismantling of a popular entitlement program.
“Who wants to get rid of Medicare?” 68-year-old Peggy Devane screamed as she argued — Brooklyn style — the merits of the GOP budget proposal. “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.”
Grimm toed the GOP line, claiming that raising taxes on the rich wouldn’t be enough to reduce the deficit.
“It’s not that we tax too little, it’s that we spend too much,” Grimm told the angered crowd of 100 at JHS 259’s auditorium on Fort Hamilton Parkway near 73rd Street. “If we don’t deal with entitlement programs, we are going to go broke.”
Medicare currently provides health insurance coverage to more than 100 million elderly, disabled and low-income Americans, but Republicans want to turn the 45-year-old program into a simple government subsidy that would assist retirees with their private health insurance costs. The GOP plan will not affect current seniors — only those ready to retire in 2022.
The Republican budget, which Grimm and his the GOP colleagues passed earlier this month in a 235-193 vote that cut across party lines, also calls for ending President Obama’s landmark healthcare reforms.
It’s unlikely that the GOP budget will become law, as the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Obama oppose it.
Democrats do not want to touch Medicare. In fact, President Obama’s calling for increasing funding to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the entitlement, so his healthcare reforms can be instituted. He claims he can offset Medicare costs by curbing fraud and reducing spending on prescription drugs.
Obama and the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office believe that if the reforms passed last year are allowed to take effect, the deficit would be reduced by $1 trillion in the next 20 years.
Angry town hall participants said that Medicare should be tweaked, not done away with entirely.
“We need to adjust, not kill,” screamed Dorothy Siegel, one of the more outspoken silver haired ladies in the auditorium, who told Grimm that taxing the nation’s biggest earners would reduce the deficit by 70 percent. “You’re killing Social Security and Medicare!”
The forum was heated, yet wasn’t as chaotic as other GOP town halls across the nation. A school security guard keeping the peace did tell Siegel and Devane that they would be ejected from the auditorium if they kept interrupting Grimm.
But the freshman lawmaker never lost his cool. He even encouraged angered constituents to boo him.
“Get it all out, get it all out,” he said with a wide grin. “It’s good to get it out. It’s healthy for your lungs.”
At the end of the night, he made it a point to hug both Siegel and Devane.
Yet Grimm made it clear that no one was going to change his mind about ending Medicare.
“I respect your opinions, but I’m not going to apologize for my beliefs,” Grimm told the audience. “We can go ring around the rosy all night long, but you’re not going to make me believe what you believe.”
Grimm said that “the clear message” he received from audience members was to raise taxes on the rich, but he said that was tantamount to “class warfare.”
“[Raising taxes on the rich] is the Democrats answer to everything right now,” he said. “But any mathematician and economist would tell you that it’s not going to be enough.”
Many Americans disagree with Grimm on this point.
A recent 60 Minutes poll shows that 61 percent of Americans favor higher taxes on the wealthy to balance the budget. Only four percent of those polled said they would cut Medicare.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – which started a “robo-call” campaign earlier this week lambasting the GOP’s cuts to entitlement programs — agreed.
“Representative Grimm is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of New York seniors and the middle class,” said DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin. “[Grimm] voted to end Medicare and force seniors to pay more for their health care while giving massive budget-busting tax breaks to millionaires.”
Grimm may not have been moved by the pleas of those in attendance, but he said he enjoyed the debate.
“No one can deny the fact that discussing this in an open forum is healthy for America,” he said. “This is how we get the ball moving.”
Perhaps in Congress, but not in Brooklyn, where residents complained that one man’s steadfast principles is another man’s ignoring his constituents.
“[Grimm] had a script to follow and he was adamant that we were not going to change his mind,” a disgruntled Devane said. “But I don’t think he changed anyone’s mind either. I think he pretty much annoyed people.”