By: Chris Barlow of Wauwatosa NOW
With a backdrop of protesters outside the building, a rambunctious, overflow crowd packed the Firefly Room at the Wauwatosa Public Library Thursday, July 6 for a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner.
The meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. but began about ten minutes early with Sensenbrenner announcing that he would shut it down if attendees grew noisy or disrespectful.
The proceedings were interrupted by the host at about 7:15 p.m. when the crowd began to grumble, groan and verbally react to Sensenbrenner's answer to a question about possible Russian interference in the U.S. election.
"We need to start being more respectful of opposing views," Sensenbrenner said. "We don't decide things on who yells the loudest."
The congressman went on to say that the current political climate has led to occurrences such as the shooting of several congressmen at a baseball practice June 14 in Washington D.C.
Sensenbrenner said he was keeping a tally of the interruptions to dissuade further outbursts. He then proceeded to say that cable news and the internet were to blame for the current amount of discord he has witnessed at his various meetings around southeastern Wisconsin.
During the meeting attendees who had submitted their names via a sign-up process were chosen by Sensenbrenner to ask their questions verbally.
The most often-asked question by the attendees was in regard to health care, but questions also covered Russia, voter rights, voter fraud and treatment of veterans.
When an attendee asked a question on what measures Sensenbrenner has or will take in regard to working "across the aisle," the Republican cited his track record as an indication of his willingness to work with Democrats.
President Donald Trump and his current trip to Europe to meet with world leaders including Russian President Putin was brought up in several ways by the attendees.
When a questioner asked about Sensenbrenner's relationship with Trump and his attention to the investigation about Russian interference in last year's election, the congressman was quick to distance himself from the president.
"I have yet to talk to anyone that changed their vote from (Hillary) Clinton to Trump because Putin told them to," Sensenbrenner said. "I've met (Trump) once. I said I would support the party's nominee. I also said I would not vote for Trump in the primary."
Health care debate
When the subject turned to the current health care debate, Sensenbrenner said projections for Medicare will cause the system to go broke in 10 years or sooner.
"It is probably not moral to spend money on ourselves and pass (the debt) on to our grandchildren," Sensenbrenner said.
The congressman said he does not believe the Congressional Budget Office's projections on how many Medicare patients would lose insurance under the proposed bill, saying the number would be lower than predicted.
When Tosa resident Jeff Wilcox was called on to ask his question, Wilcox questioned Sensenbrenner's adherence to his previous pledge to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act known as "Obamacare."
"(Conservatives) truly oppose government-funded health care and will never stop fighting against it," Wilcox said. "This legislation leaves the root's stumps and most of the branches of Obamacare. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell broke their word. I am calling for new leadership."
Sensenbrenner responded by saying it was clear from the town hall meetings held around the country by members of Congress that the people desire to keep many aspects of the ACA. He said that includes the provision on requiring insurance companies to give coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Effect on schools
Wauwatosa School Board President Shawn Rolland attended the meeting and said he was concerned about the House and the Senate health care bills because they would cut special education funding for Wauwatosa and all Wisconsin public schools.
"Medicaid funds are used for audiology services, speech therapy, physical therapy, nursing assistance or other medical equipment or services as outlined in a child's individual education plan," Rolland said. "Medicaid funds also can be used to pay for nurses, psychologists and guidance counselors."
Rolland added that if the bill isn't amended or voted down — and Medicaid funds are capped — funding for Wisconsin public schools will get cut. According to Rolland, the resulting federal funds loss for the district could be as much as $150,000 to $250,000.
"We need to care for children with special needs, legally and morally, so cuts will mean cuts somewhere in our kids' schools," Rolland said. "Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Sensenbrenner can protect kids, especially kids with special needs, from funding cuts, but only if they act."
The meeting ended at 8:23 p.m. when Sensenbrenner said the meeting was about to go over the allotted time.
The capacity of the Firefly Room is 125 people. More than that number attended, meaning there were folks who were not able to take part in the meeting. The additional attendees stood in a line hoping to get in if others left.
In addition, a couple dozen protesters stood outside the building before, during and after the meeting.
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