Thursday, August 1, 2013

This August, tell Congress what you think -- Aug. 1, 2013 column

With Congress on a five-week vacation, it’s your chance to give your House member and senators a piece of your mind.

An old-fashioned town hall meeting is probably coming your way. Yes, tweeting is faster, but getting in a lawmaker’s face? Priceless.

When Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., sponsored a town hall meeting in Lynchburg last month, the last person to stand and speak was Dulce Elias, 16, whose parents brought her to the United States when she was 3.

“I love it here. This is my country. I want to keep on pursuing my education and I want to serve my country. But I can’t because I am undocumented,” Elias said, choking up, the News & Advance reported. 

Please, she implored Goodlatte, help the children whose parents brought them here and have done nothing wrong.

Goodlatte, the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, strongly opposes immigration reform until the borders are secure and enforcement is tightened. He’s no fan of citizenship for all 11 million undocumented individuals, but he said he would look into the issue.

“Maybe for someone like you, it could include a pathway for citizenship,” he said.

In 2009, tea party activists hijacked town hall meetings and turned them into shouting matches over health care reform and federal spending. In 2010, many Democratic members of Congress skipped town halls to avoid a scene with constituents. Nobody loves being yelled at. This year, though, Democrats say they won’t cede the field and intend to talk about immigration reform. Republicans want to focus on, what else, the evils of “Obamacare” and big government.   

The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill June 27 that includes a path for citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. The Republican House leadership rejects that comprehensive approach and may vote on several separate bills this fall.   

Progressives will use the summer recess to pressure the GOP. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., had a warning for House members: “If you have a town hall or if you don’t, we’re going to find you in the grocery store because this is it. We’ve never been this close,” he said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News.
Polls show public support for a path for citizenship, but House Republicans fear GOP challengers from the party’s anti-immigration wing. So Republicans in the House plan to focus on topics the party faithful can agree on.

To fight Obamacare, Heritage Action, an offshoot of the conservative Heritage Foundation, plans town hall meetings in nine cities between Aug. 19 and 29 -- Fayetteville, Ark.; Dallas, Tampa, Nashville, Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, and Wilmington, Del. – The idea is to kill the health care law by starvation.   

“We’ll make sure lawmakers understand the American people expect then to defund Obamacare in its entirety,” said Heritage’s Michael Needham.

Democrats have warned that trying to defund the health law will result in a government shutdown, and that could have disastrous consequences for the economy.

Responsible Republican members of Congress who want to keep the government open have a tough job going against the anti-government tide. Video snippets posted online of a town hall meeting Monday in Wetumpka, Ala., illustrate the problem.

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., 37 and a second-term House member, met with skepticism from a tea party audience when she said shutting down the federal government was a bad idea.    

“If we shut the government down, I believe that’s exactly what Barack Obama wants us to do,” Roby said, explaining that Obama would win more seats in Congress in 2014, dooming Republican chances to repeal the health law.

“The last thing we need to do is to give this guy unfettered control for two years,” she said.

That wasn’t enough for a woman named Jody, who called Roby on the carpet for being too close to the “moderate elite establishment of the Republican Party, in particular John Boehner.” Roby tried to explain why being able to agree – and disagree -- with the House Speaker might be a good idea. No go.

Oh, the drama. I’m waiting for the reality TV folks to discover “Real Congress of Grassroots America.” Until then, check out a town hall meeting in a town or city near you this summer.

(Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. You may contact her at

© 2013 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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