This morning I attended a public forum on issues affecting the elderly in Ohio. The forum consisted of presentations on economic insecurity, housing, and healthcare by panelists (including the Research Director from Policy Matters - that's why I, the only young person in the room, was there), followed by questions directed at three candidates for Ohio's Class III Senate seat, currently occupied by Sen. George Voinovich. The participating candidates were Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner (Democrat), Eric LaMont Gregory (Independent), and Tom Ganley (Republican).
Unsurprisingly, the Q&A period was dominated by questions about health care and the proposed reforms. The seniors in attendance did a pretty good job of asking reasonable questions. Unlike some of the other public gatherings on the subject, this affair remained pretty civil. A few people asked questions or made comments that indicated pretty clearly that they were opposed to reform (or to hear them say it, for reform, but not this reform), but no one made a scene or was disrespectful. Overall, the crowd seemed rather friendly to the proposed reforms, and very few seemed worried about negative effects of reform on Medicare (according to a show of hands). Apparently, there were a few protesters with signs outside the event, but I didn't see them.
The most significant aspect of this event to me was insight it provided into each of the candidates. I would have like to see Lee Fisher and Rob Portman there, too, in order to get a more complete picture, but knowing a little something about these three is a good place to start:
Jennifer Brunner: Seemed pretty smart, and generally addressed the issues presented in questions; pretty much just held the party line on health care, but did say she would support expanding Medicare eligibility gradually; also said she would support raising the limit on the Social Security payroll tax; seems like she might have some trouble, though, connecting with audiences - she may have done okay with a civically-engaged, liberal-leaning group of seniors (she studied gerontology in college), but a more representative group might not relate to her as well.
Eric LaMont Gregory: Could just be that he exceeded my rather low expectations of independent candidates, but Gregory impressed me the most out of these three; came across as thoughtful and knowledgeable in his responses; has an interesting set of experiences, including significant work with the National Health Service of England and the World Health Organization, giving him some credibility on health care; on policy, might as well have been a Democrat, except for his (rather puzzling) support for replacing our income tax with an 11% flat rate tax.
Tom Ganley: Lacks substance; raised his voice and gesticulated (mostly by pointing emphatically) a lot; answers often lacked clear support or foundation; articulated his opposition to health care in typical, blustery, disingenuous, Republican way; pretty fully engaged in health care disinformation campaign, although not to the "death panel" extreme seen recently; very assertive, though, and probably did the best job of connecting to the audience; would be very friendly to business as a Senator.
As you may have gathered from that last bullet point, I'm not a huge fan of Mr. Ganley (based solely on his performance at this event). The most annoying thing he did was to cite pages and lines in "the health care bill" (while not really saying which version he was using) and to claim to be reading from it (while really just summarizing his interpretation of the sections he cited). He made some claims that would be pretty disturbing to some, if they were true (a pretty big "if").
As he is a (formerly) small businessman, his favorite claims were about the employer mandate and requirements to provide health care for part-time employees. More than once, he lamented the impact this mandate would have on a hypothetical small salon or a small barbershop, each with a couple of employees and someone to clean up part-time. He said that the requirement that these businesses provide health care to their employees or be faced with an 8% tax on their total payroll would put them out of business.
Which might be true. Except the businesses he described would be incredibly unlikely to face this requirement. The House Energy and Commerce Committee's markup of the bill exempts businesses with payrolls under $250,000 from the requirement. Then, for payrolls between $250,000 and $400,000, the tax is imposed at progressively higher levels. Only businesses with payrolls greater than $400,000 would face the full 8% tax. In short, if a three or four man barbershop is paying an 8% tax on its payroll for not covering its employees, either those are some of the highest-paid barbers around, or the barbershop exists only in Tom Ganley's imagination.