First-term Congressman John Faso’s initial reception at the Schoharie County Republican Committee’s Lincoln Dinner, where he was set to give the keynote address Thursday night, was anything but welcoming.
Over 150 constituents lined the road leading to the hotel where the dinner was to take place, many holding signs expressing contempt for Faso’s decision to vote yes on the Republican-authored American Health Care Act.
The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, and will replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, if it passes the U.S. Senate later this year.
Faso’s critics claim he’s been dodging phone calls, letters and emails in the wake of the May 4 vote, which passed the House by narrow margin of 217 to 213. That stonewalling, claimed protesting constituents, is why they showed up to the Republican dinner Thursday evening.
“If he doesn’t want to talk to us, I want to talk to him,” said Catherine Adams of Central Bridge. Adams said she’s emailed Faso’s office three times since Monday at addresses that previously garnered a response. This time, she said, the messages were returned as undeliverable. “I want him to know this is who he represents,” she said.
Proponents of the bill claim the legislation keeps what works from the ACA while cutting harmful taxes that they say will lead to lower premiums and increase customer choice.
Faso, of Kinderhook, told The Daily Gazette earlier on Thursday that he understands his constituents’ anxiety about the bill, but that he believes it addresses key deficiencies under the ACA and will lead to lower costs for taxpayers and customers.
“The premiums are continuing to skyrocket under the ACA, insurers are pulling out of markets all over the country,” he said. “I’m confident that many of the changes made in the [AHCA] ... will lower deductibles and premiums for people.”
He added that much of the consternation surrounding the bill amounts to partisan maneuvering from Democrats, the Working Families Party and “an amalgamation of left-wing causes.”
“I think many are playing on public fears unwisely and deceptively and I don’t think those fears will be realized,” he said.
Critics of the bill are concerned about certain provisions that will allow insurers to charge higher premiums to those with certain pre-existing conditions. The bill does provide $8 billion to help those people cover the higher costs, but critics say that’s not nearly enough.
There are also those who see the AHCA as a massive tax break for the wealthy, as it gets rid of a 3.8 percent tax on investment income like capital gains that was implemented under the ACA. Faso said such tax breaks slow down job growth.
“The logic behind [the tax break] is we have a very slow-growing economy and capital gains taxes are one of the worst things you can do to if you want to create jobs,” he said.
Robert Nied, who organized the protest Thursday at the Quality Inn & Suites off I-88 in Schoharie, said he initially booked a conference room adjacent to the Republicans’ dinner, but was kicked out of the hotel at the last minute. Management at the hotel told the newspaper that the Republicans needed more space and were given the room due to a pre-existing contract they had with the hotel.
“It was definitely not political in nature, it’s just business at the hotel,” said hotel manager Jackie Foland.
Schoharie County Sheriff Anthony Desmond, who was performing crowd control at the protest, said he the owner canceled Nied’s reservation and didn’t want the group at the hotel or on the property. He said sheriff’s deputies moved the group from the hotel’s parking lot to the road leading to the hotel.
“We have to respect these people’s right to assembly and respect the owner’s property rights,” said Desmond. “I think we made a good compromise. We don’t want anyone to get hurt or run into or do anything that will get them arrested.”
No matter, said Nied, as protesters were able to line the access road leading to the hotel. Attendees of the Republican committee’s dinner had to drive past the long line of protesters, many of whom held signs voicing their displeasure.
John Ostrander of Cobleskill said he showed up to the protest “to show people there are other choices, and that the AHCA is a terrible law. ... It’s clear that it was run through to get a victory for [President Donald] Trump, and that’s the worst kind of legislation.”
A woman who gave her name as Nancy, also from Cobleskill, said she doesn’t feel Faso represents her.
“I think he needs to listen to his constituents because I don’t think he is,” said Nancy. “I think more of his constituents are against what he’s doing than are for it.”
Faso told the newspaper that one of the biggest reasons he supported the bill is that it included language he co-authored that shifts Medicaid costs from New York counties to the state by 2020. He added that 42 percent of the tax levy in his 11-county district goes to paying Medicaid costs.
He also denied that he’s dodging constituents.
“That’s absurd. What’s going on around the effort is an organized political effort to create the specter of mass meetings where members of Congress can go and be shouted down,” he said. “I’m making every effort to communicate, and a lot of people just don’t agree with my position. They want a single payer system which I don’t think is the best alternative for our country, and I think we have to fix what ails the health care system today.”
His detractors weren’t buying it Thursday evening. As he pulled up in a Jeep Grand Cherokee SUV the protesters sang chants about voting him out of office, while Nied chased the vehicle with a bullhorn.
Faso said earlier in the day that he’s not thinking about the prospect of re-election, or what impact his vote on the AHCA will have on his chances.
“I’m focused on doing the job I was just elected to six months ago, not the election that’s more than 20 months away,” he said.