By Charles J. Whalen
Nobody knows what will come of the Republicans’ attempt to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. But we do know Rep. Tom Reed has lost touch with upstate values. The first to go were practicality and frankness; now civility is in tatters as well.
Western New Yorkers are practical. They value problem solving and nonpartisanship. Rather than follow in the footsteps of lawmakers such as Barber Conable and Stan Lundine, however, Reed aligns himself with the radical agenda of House Speaker Paul Ryan and partisan extremists.
As a result, residents of New York’s 23rd Congressional District are saddled with a representative who offers meaningless slogans and empty rhetoric, not pragmatism. Promising “choice” and “economic freedom,” he voted for a bill that, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would:
• Give a huge tax cut to the rich while slashing support for Medicaid, a program many seniors depend on for nursing home care.
• Increase the number of uninsured people (by 23 million in 2026) and make the health insurance market less stable.
• Lead to even higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket health care costs for many Americans.
Meanwhile, Reed’s lack of straightforwardness was reported in a fact-checking story by National Public Radio. Responding to a constituent, Reed said, “The pre-existing reform is not repealed by this legislation.” However, as NPR reported, that’s not the whole truth – the House bill would allow states to apply for waivers from current regulations, including the one that bans insurance companies from charging higher rates to people with pre-existing conditions.
Most recently, Reed has also tossed aside yet another of our values: civility. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently sent an open letter to members of his state’s congressional delegation, asking for their help to stop the Senate Republican health care bill. Cuomo expressed concern that the bill would jeopardize coverage for millions of New Yorkers. He also argued that shifting the burden of county Medicaid expenses onto the state would likely require state taxes to rise.
Reed shot back with a statement: “Governor Cuomo is a liar who has done nothing for upstate New York. He’s a one-trick pony for whom everything is an excuse to raise taxes … I’d like to see Gov. Cuomo run for president owning the highest tax increase in America.”
Reed’s remark was not only unwarranted, it was also the sort of statement that would have been censured had it been made on the House floor.
Ironically, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recently emphasized the need for political civility, writing: “Either we remain passive observers to the problem, or we endeavor to act, to make the necessary changes – in ourselves, in our families and in our communities – that will lead to a more civil, prosperous society.”
Radical Tom Reed may have empowered his constituents with choice after all. By mocking upstate values, Reed inspires constituents to get politically involved – with the aim of sending him home from Washington permanently.
Charles J. Whalen is a visiting scholar at SUNY Buffalo Law School. He lives in the 23rd Congressional District.