At a Feb. 10 event hosted by the Oak Park and River Forest Republican Organizations, and held at Good Earth Greenhouse in River Forest, Republican Rep. Peter Roskam (6th District), laid out what could likely be his party's slow, deliberate and stealth method for dismantling the Affordable Care Act.
Roskam addressed the RSVP-only meeting as a crowd of around 40 protesters demonstrated outside. Before he began speaking, a reporter and photographer from Wednesday Journal were told to leave the venue. The meeting, however, was recorded by one of the attendees, who uploaded the audio to YouTube (Roskam's remarks begin at roughly the 17:40 mark).
Before talking about Obamacare, in particular, Roskam recalled his and his GOP colleagues' surprised reaction to President Donald Trump's upset victory last November.
"People [were] all of a sudden awakened to the possibility of, 'Wow, all of this stuff we've been talking about is possible,'" said Roskam, who had avoided confronting the protesters after entering the facility through the back door.
"We're at a moment in time, and you can just completely sense it right now, when there is a cumulative sense of relief within the business community," Roskam said. "One of the reasons the economy is flourishing again, and nothing has happened, is because people are convinced that no one is going to be on their back. There's not going to be some malevolent bureaucrat coming in, saying, 'We're going to shut you down, this, that or the other thing."
Roskam also praised the majority of President Trump's cabinet picks, describing them as "stellar" overall. He called former Kansas Rep. Michael Pompeo (R-4th), Trump's pick to head the CIA, as "a brilliant lawyer, a brilliant businessman" and "unbelievable guy" who will "bring the authority and strength of the U.S. intelligence agencies to keep us safe."
Roskam also had high praise for Tom Price, the recently confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary. Roskam — who sits on the Health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, the powerful body that makes recommendations on revenue-raising items — said that he served on the House Budget Committee with the former Georgia congressman.
"If I could choose a single person who will have the authority under the Affordable Care Act to do everything that needs to be done," Roskam said, "the single person I would have chosen is Tom Price, and by some crazy set of circumstances, so did Donald Trump."
Roskam told the crowd of at least 30 people that the GOP could maneuver around voting to dismantle the controversial healthcare legislation and that Price would be in the driver's seat.
"Here's what the liberals didn't figure when they created the ACA," Roskam said. "There are 1,400 — one, four, zero, zero — times in the ACA when it says, 'the Secretary of Human Services may,' and 'the Secretary of Human Services shall.'
"So what does that tell you? They didn't create a statute that ever contemplated that a conservative was ever going to have that kind of power and what we want is the smart person who is in their adjusting those dials," the congressman said, "helping us to dismantle the system that is in there that has so aggrieved so many people and then create something that can be ultimately transformational."
Roskam didn't go into detail about what that "transformational" alternative might look like and he didn't specify what discretionary adjustments Price plans on making.
According to an estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, at least 18 million people could lose their health insurance coverage if Republicans were to repeal significant aspects of the law without putting in place an alternative plan.
For the last several days, many of Roskam's constituents have been trying to get him to hold public meetings to discuss the ACA's uncertain future, but so far the six-term incumbent has reportedly rebuffed those requests, preferring to meet, instead, with Republican supporters.
Several of Roskam's constituents who were interviewed have said that his office has not been responsive to their emails, letters and phone calls.
At the Feb. 10 event in River Forest, Joseph Morris, an attorney and conservative activist, praised Roskam's constituent outreach efforts.
"Contrary to what folks out there would have you believe," Morris said, referencing the protesters, whose voices could be heard in the audio, "Roskam is not doing backroom deals. He's taking his ideas and shopping them out to the critics. He's talking to a roomful of think-tank people and critical economists and journalists with the cameras rolling. He's laying out his ideas, he's taking questions."
Before praising Roskam, Morris laid out his own ideas about the current state of politics in America, explaining that the country is "seeing a realignment of sorts."
"The old coalition of the Democratic Party is driving itself apart, it's crumbling before our very eyes," he said. "They have made investments now for a couple of generations in a few things I don't think can hold together permanently … One is this politics of identity. We no longer identify people by, as Dr. King said, 'the contents of their character.'"
Morris said that Democrats, instead, would rather cater to "grievance groups" forged by ethnic and religious bonds, "not what they can contribute."
"I hope President Trump is able to lead us to continue to take advantage of the sorting out of the labor movement, because there really isn't one labor movement, anymore," Morris said. "There are two. On the one hand, there is the labor movement that we've known for 100 years, the labor movement of people who actually work and build things, that is a necessary part of the capitalist system.
"Then there is a whole other labor movement that, I think we're hearing out there now," he said. "That it's the public sector unions, the people who don't actually produce useful goods and services. They are the people who provide the permanent infrastructure of government, the permanent government all levels — from the school district to the park district levels on up to the national government."
That last part of Morris' speech drew audible gasps from the audience inside of Good Earth, with one person saying, "No!"
Roskam reinforced Morris' point in describing what he called a "great debate that is upon us right now." He said that one side of that debate, which "is on display tonight, you can sense it," believes the economy is a fixed pie and "that if somebody does well, somebody else is doing poorly."
The congressman juxtaposed that side with a side that believes that "the economy is a growing pie if we do it right and as it expands," he added, there is "more opportunity for more people."
"What we've got to make sure is that, as we're competing in this great arena of new ideas, that we do not fall into the trap of letting our opponents, God bless them, create this false dichotomy [that says] someone's success means the demise of another's."