Would you risk everything?

Dear Tom,

On Friday morning, at 6:30 am, I was driving to Ace’s Diner in Belfast, NY for a weekly breakfast with women from my church and listening to Morning Edition on NPR (yes—despite my attempts to be more bipartisan I’m an unrepentant supporter of public radio). What I heard enraged me so much that I turned off the radio in frustration.

A political analyst (I tried to find the segment online but can’t locate it) was talking about how the Graham-Cassidy bill was likely to pass and how this would be a great “victory” for the Republican party. The interviewer asked him about the consequences if the bill did not go through and he said it would be a devastating political “loss.”

This is when I slammed my hand against radio knob. This disgusted me. Why? Because creating access to quality health care for as many people as possible should not be a matter of political victories or defeats. Passing a bill because there are enough votes to pass it (even though there’s not enough time to properly research its consequences, debate it, and get it scored by the Congressional Budget Office) is an example of our political system at its absolute worst.

You understand this. I saw your interview on MSNBC about the bill and you were plainly in a terrible spot. You have been promoting a bi-partisan approach to health care (which I whole-heartedly applaud!) yet your party came up with this strategy for a “political win.” You faced the dilemma of either going back on several months’ worth of talk about the need to work across the aisle or voting against your party while representing a district that’s very solidly Republican. I felt your pain in that interview.

So I felt a great sense of relief on Friday afternoon when I learned that Senator John McCain had declared his opposition to the bill. I felt particularly vindicated that McCain voiced the same opposition that I have. This is not a bill that moves us forward toward health-care solutions. It just swings the political pendulum the other way. If something like this passes, then the next time the Democrats are in power, they will swing it back in their direction. We wouldn’t be able to have any confidence that we know how our health-care system works. And that, I would imagine, is bad for the economy.

I’m grateful that we have a few courageous senators who are willing to take the political risk of being criticized by their party leaders and even insulted by our president. These senators (like Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, and Susan Collins) make it possible for house Republicans like you (with short terms of office and partisan bases) to even imagine bipartisan solutions.

I would like to think that you would be so courageous—that you would come out against your own party in a big, public way for a noble cause. I doubt you have the political capital right now to do it. But perhaps you might decide that the principle matters more than the politics.

I had dinner on Wednesday with Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from South Carolina (he came to the college where I work to give a talk). He lost his house seat in a primary a few years back because he decided that truth was more important than politics. He knew that taking action to mitigate the damage of climate change was vitally important before his district was ready to hear that message. It’s not easy to be principled. It might cost you everything, politically.

I’m now a registered Republican (remember my Christmas gift to you?) who is ready to vote for you in next spring’s primary if you continue your courageous stance on bi-partisan health care solutions. I know it’s risky for you, but I’m urging you to stay strong.

We’ve started harvesting the apples from the trees in our backyard and are planning on making cider this week. The kids are in full swing with their school activities and I’m enjoying going to my middle child’s soccer games. I hope you’re getting back to the 23rd district often enough to enjoy the glorious fall colors. It may be my favorite time of year.

Your devoted constituent,


Now’s your time to shine

Dear Tom,

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote but I want you to know that I am still paying attention. I took the month of August off from social media so I was a little more out of the loop as to what you were doing but I also honored your “August recess” by not writing to you during that month. Since then, I’ve been busy getting my kids off to school and keeping up with the overabundance of produce from my garden. As the days turn cooler and the leaves turn red, though, it’s time to get back to business.

I’m actually feeling more excited and hopeful about politics than I have in a while. Here’s a list of things that give me hope:

  1. You continue to use the rhetoric of bipartisanship and keep doing photo-ops with Democrat Josh Gottheimer.
  2. You voted against your party once this summer (see my previous letter) proving that you will act independently if you have a compelling reason to do so.
  3. There are deadlines coming up for legislative action with some significant (mostly political, but also economic) consequences if the legislation doesn’t come together.
  4. President Trump seems to want Congress to pass legislation on immigration that secures a place in the US for people who registered under the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Yes, I know that this is weird, given his previous rhetoric on immigration, but everything about this presidency is weird.
  5. President Trump is acting in unpredictable ways (no surprise there) but in ways that will put pressure on Congress to work on bipartisan legislation (a bit of a surprise, that one).

Given these positive signs, I generated a to-do list for you for the next three months. Here are some things that this constituent thinks you need to be working on:

  1. Passing a federal budget before the next “debt ceiling” deadline in December. I know that a lot of other things will get more media coverage and could distract congress from this job, but this is the most crucial and time-consuming thing you need to do, right? A government shut-down in December would be a lump of coal in Congress’s stocking.
  2. Continuing to work on stabilizing the health care marketplace. Let’s see if we can’t get some laws in place that guarantee every American reasonable options for buying health insurance. My sense that there are various plans out there. It’s time to get something passed so that no one is left without coverage.
  3. Passing immigration reform. There is a bill out there, the “Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act” (DREAM Act) that was introduced in 2001 and still has some life. It came 5 votes short of passing in 2010 and a new version was introduced in July. President Trump has given you a six-month window to pass something like this before the widely popular DACA program expires. It will be messy and contentious, but with people like yourself who have vowed to be “problem solvers,” it’s doable.

That’s more than enough to keep you busy until December. You will notice that I did not include tax reform in my list. That’s because that while I talk idealistically, there are also things about which I’ve got to be realistic. Large-scale tax reform, I predict, will play out a lot like large-scale health care reform. Congress will come up with some ideas, but as soon as they were “scored” and it became apparent that the benefits are largely going to corporations and people in higher income brackets, it will be impossible to come to agreement. I’m not opposed to tax reform as a concept. But it should wait until other, more urgent priorities are accomplished.

This is your moment to shine, Tom. Roll up your sleeves and show us what you can do.

I’m watching with interest,