Remarks made by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA-07) at a May 21 town hall meeting in Dacula have generated national controversy after excerpts were published in an article on the Huffington Post.
The Huffington Post article focused on Rep. Woodall’s response to a comment regarding post-retirement medical benefits.
"The private corporation that I retired from does not give medical benefits to retirees," a town hall attendee remarked to Woodall.
"Hear yourself, ma'am. Hear yourself," Woodall replied. “It’s just a difference of opinion. We can agree to disagree. You want your government benefits. You want the government to take care of you because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, 'When do I decide I'm going to take care of me?'"
Woodall’s response was met by a standing ovation from the largely conservative crowd of about 75 people. The local enthusiastic response for that and other Woodall statements was not shared by some national news commentators.
“That sounds like he’s telling would-be Medicare recipients whose employer isn’t supplying insurance for retirees that they should fend for themselves, which seems decidedly off the GOP message,” wrote Greg Sargent in a May 24 Washington Post opinion piece.
The afternoon of May 24, Sargent wrote another piece referencing a comment from the town hall meeting in which Woodall criticized socialized medicine.
"If you want a socialized health care program, there are lots of places to find that," Woodall said. "But, for your children's sake, I beg you: There aren't many places to find the freedom to succeed by the sweat of your brow like we have here.”
Sargent wrote, “The whole episode struck me as the sort of moment that Dems would seize on as a revelatory one.”
In his article, Sargent included a statement from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who Sargent described as “the Dem messaging chief”: “No matter how hard you’ve worked your whole life, no matter how severe your medical hardship, the Republican motto is clear: you’re on your own. This lays bare the ideology behind their goal of ending of Medicare as we know it.”
According to Sargent, the from Saturday’s town hall meeting was circulated to reporters by the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“It’s always hard to predict what sort of moment will become an iconic one,” Sargent wrote. “But the DNC just circulated the exchange to reporters moments ago, and I’m told more Dems may pounce on it, so at the very least, it could get some cable play.”
In his blog post, Benen described Woodall as an “extremist” and opined that his remarks came “at the intersection of candor, callousness, and conservatism.”
Several Woodall supporters in attendance at Saturday’s town hall meeting disagreed with Benen’s assessment.
said Rep. Woodall defended his conservative Republican values well.
“He believes in individual responsibility, smaller federal government, and understands that no government that spends more than it takes in can long remain viable,” Wilbanks said. “I was disappointed in the fact that other issues besides health care were not addressed by the audience. Obviously health care was on the mind of those in attendance. When mandated spending exceeds total income, we are in trouble as a country. I thought Rep. Woodall made that point well. I believe that Rep. Woodall’s values reflect the great majority of voters in the 7th District of Georgia, both Republicans and Democrats alike.”
Dacula resident Vanessa Green also had a favorable opinion of Rep. Woodall’s remarks.
“He was his usual, gracious, patient self,” Green said. “He answered all their questions to the nth degree. He was respectful to the audience. There was no anger, no dismissive attitude.”
Green however was angered and concerned that representatives from MoveOn.org were in the audience.
“I was told they were there,” Green said. “I don’t want them here. They don’t belong here.”
MoveOn.org, a political action group, has called upon its members to “help in the fight to save Medicare.”
A statement posted on the MoveOn.org website boasts, “MoveOn members across the country are already taking action to save Medicare by stirring up Republican town hall meetings. And it's working. The press is hot on the story, with the front page of The New York Times declaring: ‘Voters Attack Republicans on Medicare.’ We have to seize this moment, and to do that we need to deepen our campaign against the Republicans' horror budget and their plan to kill Medicare.”
The Gwinnett chapter of MoveOn.org called for members to attend Saturday’s town hall meeting and has since posted the following statement on their website: “Last week, MoveOnGwinnett (MOG) organized an action at Representative Woodall's Dacula town hall meeting ... MOG members met prior to the meeting and went over the plan to focus on the Medicare issue.”
The MOG website also included a link to the Huffington Post’s coverage of the meeting.
said he spoke with a man claiming to be a representative of MoveOn.org. Reeves said he initially thought the man was a media representative and asked him which news organization he represented.
“He replied ‘We're from MoveOn.org.’ He didn't say ‘I,’ but he said ‘we’,” Reeves said.
Attempts to reach a representative of MoveOn.org for comment were unsuccessful.
Despite the presence of representatives from MoveOn.org, Jennifer Drogus, director of communications for Rep. Woodall's office -- like the majority of those in attendance at Saturday’s meeting -- thought the town hall went very well.
“Some people went in with partisan, leftist scare tactics on the brain,” Drogus said. “I think folks left better informed.”
According to GOP lawmakers, proposed Medicare reform changes would not affect those currently 55 years of age or older. Under the proposal, eligible recipients would receive a federal voucher or subsidy for use towards the purchase of a private insurance plan. If the reform proposal is enacted, private insurers -- not the federal government -- would issue payments for medical care and compete for business from those covered under the plan.
Rep. Woodall said the goal of the Medicare reform proposal is to keep the program solvent.
“I know Medicare isn’t going to be there for me if we don’t make changes,” he said. “I know Medicare might be there if do we make changes.”