It’s a source of pride for many that Bakersfield’s very own congressman, Kevin McCarthy, is the second most powerful man in the House of Representatives.
As the House majority leader, McCarthy is leading Republican lawmakers in Washington as they further the GOP’s and President Trump’s agenda in many critical areas, including their controversial attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
And it’s no surprise that this has placed Bakersfield in the national spotlight as conflicting groups descend on the city that houses the powerful congressman’s district headquarters.
As he does in the nation’s capital, we ask McCarthy to lead in his district. Get out in front of these controversies. Meet with activists. Hold town halls. Actually go out into the community to hear people’s diverse concerns. Find ways to assure all of your constituents — not just the ones who voted for you — that you are hearing and understanding them.
Last week, hundreds of health care advocates — about half from Bakersfield and the rest from cities throughout the state — marched on McCarthy’s Bakersfield office pleading for the congressman and Republicans to protect, improve and expand programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, rather than cut them.
They found the congressman’s office door locked. McCarthy’s staff responded to a Californian reporter by telling her to read an opinion article the congressman released on Jan. 19.
That’s not good enough. Like the rest of us, McCarthy will have to get used to seeing growing legions of protesters from far and near marching through Bakersfield streets as activists attempt to catch the attention of the second most powerful man in Congress.
A closed door and “no comment” is not leadership. McCarthy is going to have to do much, much better.
McCarthy’s 23rd District is one of the nation’s poorest, with more than 50 percent of its residents relying on Medicare or Medicaid to pay for their health care.
According to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, the number of people without health insurance in California’s Central Valley has plunged since the enactment of Obamacare. In McCarthy’s Kern County district alone, the uninsured rate dropped from more than 18 percent in 2013 to just under 8 percent in 2015.
In his Jan. 19 opinion article, McCarthy dismissed these Obamacare gains as meaningless. He contended “the number of insured matters little when the quality of the insurance is so dismal.”
Since Obamacare’s enactment in 2010, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly tried and failed to kill the comprehensive health care legislation. They also rejected proposals to improve the act to fix problems. But now with Republican President Trump’s election and the House and Senate in Republican control, the GOP is on a fast track to repeal Obamacare.
And noting Trump campaigned for president on a promise to repeal Obamacare, Republicans claim a voter mandate to proceed.
But there were two parts to Trump’s campaign promise — repeal and replace with something “much, much better.” The new president now promises Trumpcare will expand health insurance coverage to everyone. And it will retain the most popular features of Obamacare, such as bans on excluding pre-existing conditions from insurance coverage; allowing children to remain on their parents’ policies until they are 26 years old; and bans on lifetime coverage caps.
More than 20 million people — many of them low-income — are receiving health insurance coverage because of Obamacare. Most other Americans, including those with private insurance, are receiving preventative services and medical treatments because of Obamacare’s mandates.
To act in haste to repeal Obamacare, without having that “much, much better” Trumpcare in place will be to leave millions of Americans without health insurance and the rest of us without the services and treatments we expect.