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Monday, February 18 , 2019, 9:47 am | Fair 51º


Protesters Take Sides in Health-Care Debate

Capps is a no-show, but plenty of supporters and opponents raise a ruckus over Obama's overhaul plans

Amid the din of dueling megaphones, demonstrators gathered outside Rep. Lois Capps’ office Thursday to rally for and against health-care legislation stalled in Washington, D.C.

Capps wasn’t around, but the debate went on without her on the sidewalks outside the Santa Barbara Democrat’s empty offices at 301 E. Carrillo St.

President Barack Obama’s plans to overhaul the nation’s health-care system have ignited a firestorm of protest across the nation, and opponents have besieged Democratic lawmakers at their traditional August recess town-hall meetings held back home in their districts.

Polls show public support for Obama’s plans dropping steadily. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that opposition to the plan has increased to 53 percent, up nine points since late June. Just as significant, the intensity of the opposition has been growing, with 44 percent of voters now strongly opposing the health-care reform effort versus 26 percent who strongly favor it.

Meanwhile, critics were handed new ammunition Wednesday with news that this year’s budget deficit will quadruple to $1.84 trillion.

All of those dynamics were on display Thursday in downtown Santa Barbara. Several hundred people joined the demonstration, many in support of Capps, a popular six-term lawmaker. A smaller but still sizable group showed up to question her support for the health-care legislation and to voice frustration over her failure to hold a town-hall meeting about it. Capps’ representatives have said she will be holding a forum in September, although no details have been released.

Last week, registered nurse Kathi Heringer sent out an e-mail calling for advocates of a town-hall meeting to convene outside of Capps’ office. On Wednesday, another e-mail circulated between backers of Capps and the health-care bill, calling for supporters to appear as a counterweight. Santa Barbara City Councilman Das Williams, who is campaigning for the Assembly, also chimed in, urging his supporters to appear.

As cars honked in support of one side or another, Heringer stood in the back of a pickup truck outside of Capps’ office and called out questions over a loudspeaker, challenging the costs and the extent of a government-financed and -run health-care system.

“Why is there no mention of tort reform in the bill being proposed?” she added, eliciting cheers from her side.

“You people over there should be listening because this will impact your lives dramatically,” Heringer called to Capps’ supporters lined up across the street. “You’ll be sorry.”

Heringer also voiced concerns about the bill’s implications for abortion, which have surfaced over the so-called Capps Amendment to the legislation.

On Tuesday, Capps had sent a letter to House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, correcting his claim that her amendment “will require (Americans) to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.”

She chided Boehner, writing that her amendment “preserves the status quo in abortion policy,” and pointed out that public funds are still prohibited from being used for abortions in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother.

Across the street, among Capps supporters was a woman dressed up in a bright green Statue of Liberty costume. Identifying herself only as “Lady Liberty,” she said she was demonstrating because health care was a universal right.

“I believe in this country providing for health care for everyone,” she said. “I don’t think anyone should be left out.

“I think there’s a spirit of meanness and selfishness and I don’t feel that Lady Liberty was brought into our harbors for that reason,” she said. “This country was founded on a generosity of spirit, and that’s why I’m here.”

Although she said was insured and was happy with her current health care, she said would support reform that made such care universal.

“That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to pay more for other people to feel safe and cared for and not afraid,” she said.

Further down the street, Chuck Lawrence was holding a sign calling for Capps to read the Constitution. He and his wife, Hanne, drove from Santa Ynez and were the first to arrive outside of Capps’ office Thursday.

“We’ve never in our lives been a part of something like this, but we decided to because we believe in this country,” he said.

Lawrence, who said he was a registered independent, gestured toward the empty office.

“I don’t know why she doesn’t have the guts to show up,” he said of Capps.

Lawrence said his wife is from Denmark, and she also had apprehensions about the health-care reform proposals in their current form.

“She knows all the problems where you have to wait months and months for a doctor. That’s where we’re headed here if we don’t stop this madness,” he said.

“Our children and our grandchildren are going to pay for this,” he said, calling the cost of such a plan “outrageous.”

But another demonstrator said she felt keeping people uninsured would bankrupt the United States. Introducing herself as Judy and asking that her last name not be used, she said she was insured, but because of pre-existing conditions, paid $6,000 a month for health care. She said the cost for her was unsustainable and that she’d eventually have to drop insurance coverage altogether.

She said she believes health care is a basic human right.

“What does life mean if not health?” she asked.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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