Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet blasts Republican health-care efforts, hopeful for bipartisan answer

Sen. Michael Bennet on Monday said he couldn’t have designed a bill less responsive to criticisms of the Affordable Care Act than what Republicans have put forth in the past few months, and Bennet expressed hope that a recently announced bipartisan effort to repair the individual marketplace will be met with success.

Bennet, D-Colo., toured Greeley on Monday, visiting the Greeley-Evans School District 6 Central Kitchen, Centennial Elementary School, a Weld County hemp farm and The Greeley Tribune before hosting a town hall meeting at the University of Northern Colorado.

District 6 Superintendent Deirdre Pilch served as the moderator at the town hall, introducing Bennet and drawing resident names from a large plastic bin.

Bennet took a variety of questions from a sympathetic audience of about 150 people, but health care was a recurring theme.

“It’s crazy to me that they wrote a bill like that,” Bennet said, before sympathizing with Republicans to dramatic effect. “Can you imagine how hard it would be to say you’re going to repeal ACA for eight years, then you find yourself on the floor of the Senate and you can’t repeal it?”

The answer, going forward, is to work together, Bennet said. That’s already happening, as Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced the Senate health committee will host bipartisan health care hearings on the matter, and a group of 40 lawmakers from both parties have endorsed some ideas to fix Obamacare, CNN reported.

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Although Bennet told The Tribune he doesn’t think the fix will go far enough without more help, that’s a better endorsement than what he provided previous Republican plans.

Speaking about his conversations with constituents, especially those who don’t like the Affordable Care Act, Bennet said, “Nobody has said, ‘The key to my health care is for you to give a tax cut to the richest people.’ ”

Bennet drew laughter several times, punctuating his easy-going demeanor with sharp jabs at President Donald Trump and bits of self-deprecating humor, as well.

He said, for example, he’s not philosophically opposed to allowing insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines.

“I said that when I was running for office, so it must be true,” Bennet said to laughter.

But the town hall often shifted into more serious territory, and Bennet was able to provide at least some answers to what he would prefer to see in the wake of Republican failures to repeal Obamacare.

“I think if you work full time in this country, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you’re going to be covered for health care,” Bennet said.

He flirted with the idea of a single-payer system, as suggested by a resident, before saying he would support a public option.

He said Trump ought to stop threatening to defund marketplaces, lest he continue to throw uncertainty into the equation.

And he lamented the choices — saying they outnumbered people in the room — citizens must make when it comes to health care. Bennet said those choices include having to stay in a job you hate because you have health insurance, the loss of insurance or not being able to get a job.

“Is there hope for bipartisanship?” Bennet said. “I hope so, because that’s the only way we’re going to get anything done.”

— Tyler Silvy covers government and politics for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at tsilvy@greeleytribune.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.

Bennet’s answers

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., took a variety of questions from constituents during a town hall meeting Monday at the University of Northern Colorado. Here are some highlights:

» On voter suppression — “If you live in a democracy or a republic, everybody should be for everybody voting. You should not have, as part of your strategy, intimidating other people from voting. Donald Trump has that as his strategy…You’re right to be worried. You’re also right to be worried that the Russians interfered in our elections.”

» On immigration reform (Bennet was part of Gang of Eight) —  “I think it’s part of who we are as Americans that we’re committed to the rule of law. We should secure the border, and we should know who’s here. If they commit crimes, they should go…(Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake) had to go home and explain why they were voting on the Gang of Eight (legislation). If they can do it, I’m not sure why others can’t. And John just told a local paper in Arizona he was going to come back and re-introduce the Gang of Eight Bill.”

» On NAFTA — “Now we have to renegotiate NAFTA. (Trump) has told the American people it’s a complete disaster. Talk to farmers and ranchers in Weld County, and ask them if it was a complete disaster. I think (Trump) thinks ‘I’m a hotshot real estate developer in New York, and I’m creating leverage.’ No you’re not. What do you think happens in Mexico when people see that? They say, ‘No, we’re not paying for this wall.’”

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