The other day I offered Kevin McCarthy a deal he just couldn’t pass up: a sponsored town hall discussion of Republicans’ plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. We would make it invitation only, keep it to 30 guests, bar the doors and make sure a good portion of the participants were in his corner.

He passed it up.

“I find myself very accessible” already, he said in an interview on KERN Radio last week. “I don’t think I need that process.”

If by “that process” he means subjecting himself to the same sort of rowdy crowds that have roiled town halls across the country over the past two weeks, prompting several congressional Republicans to practically go into hiding, I suppose he doesn’t. He has seen the anger and passion already, with pickets marching on both his office and his home in recent days.

But if by “that process” he means listening to thoughtful constituents — people who are not normally given to shouting — discuss their hopes and concerns about health care, he most certainly does. And right now.

Why now? Because a Republican repeal-and-replace plan is actually starting to take shape. McCarthy said as much in that radio interview, declaring that he expects a bill to come to the House floor before June.

At least five Republican-authored versions are now making the rounds in draft form, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Most would keep the most popular Obamacare provisions in place, such as the section that allows adult children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. But most plans would also require people with pre-existing medical conditions to enroll in special high-risk insurance pools.

And most plans would discontinue the flow of federal cash that has allowed expansion of Medicaid programs in several states, including California, where it’s known as Medi-Cal.

And that’s where it hits McCarthy’s 23rd Congressional District hardest.

Forty-five percent of Kern County uses Medi-Cal, the Los Angeles Times reports, citing the California Budget and Policy Center. In Tulare County, some of which resides within the 23rd District, it’s 55 percent.

More than 95,000 Kern County residents now eligible for Medi-Cal would lose coverage if a repeal axes that federal lifeline, the UC Berkeley Labor Center says. In McCarthy’s district all told, 70,000 would lose coverage.

No wonder McCarthy says he prefers tele-town halls and meetings with smaller, selected groups.

McCarthy has been criticized for paying more attention to national party politics than to his Central California constituents. As minority whip and now majority leader, that is understandable. To a degree.

But this is a constituents-first moment.

Informal negotiations have or will soon begin on which provisions of whose plan will go into the final Republican bill. As majority leader, McCarthy must surely have some pull, even if he is regarded as less a policy guy than a political guy.

For guidance, he might look to President Trump, who is apparently of the opinion that Republicans can come up with a plan that provides more for less — a neat trick.

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said a week before his inauguration. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

While no GOP plan is likely to take that instruction literally, some will hold the door open wider than others.

The latest of the five is by Rep. Darrell Issa, of San Diego, whose draft Access to Insurance for All Americans Act would allow the public to buy in to the same insurance plans provided to federal employees and their families. Unlike the others, his plan would also allow Americans with pre-existing conditions to stay in the general insurance pool.

Perhaps Issa is motivated in part by the realization that the American political landscape is an ever-swinging pendulum. And the pendulum just took a decisive swing to the right — which can only mean one thing.

For Issa, it means he could be in for a 2018 rematch of the toughest race of his career. Last year. he defeated Marine Col. Doug Applegate, a Democrat, by a mere 2,000-and-change votes.

McCarthy is fortunate enough to have never faced a remotely serious challenge in this traditionally Republican district. Unlike with Issa, personal political vulnerability is not an issue.

McCarthy need only think about his 700,000 valley constituents. Perhaps, before this is over, he’ll change his mind about which among them he’s willing to listen to.

Robert Price writes a weekly column for The Californian. Reach him at rprice@bakersfield.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

(9) comments

Ramon del Oeste
Ramon del Oeste

I once participated in one of McCarthy's telephone "town hall" meetings, and actually was able to say a few words. While I wanted a more give and take conversation, I made an impromptu pitch that House Republicsns should support reasonable action on climate change. He cut my end of the"conversation" off and did not really respond one way or another. He was totally in control, and that is what he wants. In a real town hall meeting there could be microphones and some degree of control, but still have a real dialogue. I don't understand why he does not do this, because there is no way he will loose any election in this district, regardless of how meetings turn out.

1joscott
1joscott

The fact that Kevin McCarthy refuses to hold local town meetings is largely and simply because he no longer wants to be inconvenienced by them. Why should he subject himself to any further scrutiny? Is he running a political charity? As del Oeste above has correctly noted, he will win his district which is controlled by lock-step Republicans even if he decided to only fish in his spare time He really does not deserve such unconditional and uncritical support from his loyalists. This is essentially what Robert Price is working to prove. He does not very much resemble.Bill "bring home the pork" Thomas with his habitual actions towards his district. He prefers to play the game he is doing best as a clever consummate Washington insider,.

Wim Laven
Wim Laven

I've been consistently perplexed by valley conservatives.

This is a clear no-brainer to me, McCarthy has been ignoring his constituents for years. BUT, inexplicably, the defense of this jellyfish never ceases.

I have continued to follow my hometown despite moving to Georgia 5 years ago, Republicans here see the joke McCarthy is, I've even written about it in a past LTE for the Californian. My Letters haven't been making it out of the pile so much lately.

Price, you've put together a great piece, and any thinking person should take McCarthy's cowardice very seriously. Thank you for continuing to ignore the trolls and making noble attempts to hold the Valley's elected officials accountable.

Brian
Brian

Just have to say "wow" we have a teacher who thinks her neighbors loosing medi-cal will cost taxpayers more money when we are paying that bill anyway. And Robert price taking his liberal swipe at Kevin is a joke. He people that keep Kevin in office are just fine watching him snub as the other commentator stated as obamas crew hosting these so called town halls. California can fund it's own liberal welfare and illegal fight hen let them pay for the low income medi-cal. I for one can't pay for anyone else after I pay my obama inflated insurance.

Wim Laven
Wim Laven

If you think "watching snubs" is the making of a healthy democracy you don't deserve to live in the U.S.A.. You have civic duties just like McCarthy has, and neither of you is living up to them.

Dykoh
Dykoh

I don't know who these anarchist organizers they speak of are; I am a teacher and a constituent. I live in beaitiful downtown Pumpkin Center. The idea that thousands of my neighbors could lose their health care is frightening. So I speak out for them, knowing that I am really speaking out for myself as a taxpayer. If they lose MediCal, and they get hurt or sick, who do you suppose is going to foot that bill? Ding ding ding!!! That's right! Taxpayers! At a much higher cost than if we provide cheaper preventative care in the first place. No anarchy needed. Just logic.

And I just subscribed to the paper after a period of having let it go, mostly because Maryl Streep made the case that we should support local journalism. Don't let me down, Mr Price!

Jpb1055
Jpb1055

Robert, the liberal "Organizing for Action" group that is supposedly an Obama community action group, is behind the most vocal of protesters infiltrating the Republican town hall meetings . This type of anarchist movement is disruptive and does not allow the actual constituents to ask questions in a respectful way. But those who don't have similar views as the liberal political ideology that has guided this Nation for that last eight years, have no "Tolerance" for other view points. By hijacking these forums they are attempting to intimidate the Republican lawmakers into not getting behind Trump's agenda. For Republicans like myself, the fight did not end with the election. We must stand up to the liberals who are bent on chaos and anarchy.

Ramon del Oeste
Ramon del Oeste

You should read this article again, because you clearly don't understand what was said. Price offered to set up a meeting with McCarthy with 30 people who are mostly McCarthy supporters, and bar the doors to the public. McCarthy refused.

GaryJohns
GaryJohns

Get over yourself, Robert. You and your paper are not that important any longer...

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