In the News
Panama City News Herald
Mar 19 2017
PANAMA CITY — It was a rough start for Rep. Neal Dunn Sunday as he spent nearly three hours fielding questions from constituents during his first local, in-person town hall forums since taking office this January.
Dunn spent the majority of his time at the mic defending the American Health Care Act (AHCA) — the plan put forward by House Republicans last week — largely by focusing on the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). That position was unpopular with Sunday’s crowd, who voiced their opposition both loudly, with booing, and quietly with yellow and white index cards stating simply “agree” or “disagree”. The House of Representatives will vote on the legislation on Thursday.
“This process is open,” Dunn said. “It is by no means finished.”
When asked how he could support a plan that would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leave an estimated 24 million more Americans without insurance, Dunn questioned the accuracy of the CBO, saying there were savings in the AHCA that were not factored in the office’s report, and that they are “frequently wrong.”
“Their numbers are a little unusual,” he said.
Dunn doubled down on his commitment he would work his hardest to ensure no one lost coverage during the repeal and replacement of ACA. When a constituent brought up that, according to the CBO report, older Americans could be paying up to five times more for health care than younger people, Dunn said he does not want to take health care away from senior citizens.
“I don’t have any part of a bill that does that,” he said.
While he mostly stayed the party line, Dunn broke with President Trump in several places, including his proposal to cut funding to the Coast Guard by $1.3 billion. The Coast Guard, Dunn said, is a “fundamental part of defense” even though they do not operate under the Department of Defense with other armed forces. Dunn also opposed the proposed 20 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health in President Trump’s proposed budget.
Though the crowd frequently interrupted with comments and some jeers, Dunn took it all in stride, engaging with constituents and asking follow-up questions, and although they did not agree with his policies, many of the constituents in turn made it clear their opposition was not personal.
“You’ve been a really good sport,” Susan Sizemore said as she took the mic during the meeting’s second hour.
Local groups like Bay Indivisible have been calling for Dunn to hold a town hall-style forum for weeks to voice their concerns. After the event, the congressman said he appreciated the input and would take it into consideration.
“I’d like to think we connected with some people out there,” he said. “They behaved well. This is a nice town.”
For anyone who couldn’t make it to the meeting, Dunn’s office will be holding a telephone town hall on Thursday, March 23. Details for that event can be found on his website.