Colorado lawmakers return to DC after rocky recess
ESTES PARK, Colorado – The boos and cheers are quieting down for Colorado members of Congress who have spent the past month facing spirited crowds about proposals to overhaul health care.As Congress returns to work next week, a big question is: What did the rocky August recess mean for Colorado’s delegation?”It definitely brought a lot of people, all ages, out to think about how our system works and what is going on,” said Pam Huffman, 48, a nurse who attended a meeting with Democratic Rep. Betsy Markey on Thursday.The meeting in the mountain resort town drew about 100 people. It was divided into two sessions, with some jeers and applause but a mostly orderly crowd.Huffman opposes the health care proposals backed by leading Democrats in Congress, but she was glad for the town halls that grabbed the public’s attention. If nothing else, she said, politicians will return to Washington knowing constituents are watching closely.”They don’t get a blank slate to do whatever they want. Not anymore,” Huffman said.It was a tumultuous month for Colorado’s delegation.Hundreds jammed sidewalks outside a downtown Denver health clinic when Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited. The crowd was many times bigger in Grand Junction a week later when President Barack Obama talked about health insurance at a high school.Members of Congress saw crowds in public libraries and coffee shops – even a parking lot where Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter talked health care at a King Soopers.Delegates insisted the meetings and protests, e-mail campaigns and radio call-in shows have been helpful.”It’s messy, it’s painful, but it’s the American way, and I’m proud of how we’re handling this,” Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver told about 250 people at National Jewish Health hospital in Denver.DeGette, the senior member of Colorado’s delegation, told the crowd the House is certain to approve a bill setting up a “public option” for people unhappy with private insurers or whose employers don’t provide coverage.”I can guarantee you a bill will not pass out of the House without a public option or a robust alternative,” said Degette, one of the Democrats charged with collecting votes in that chamber.Perlmutter has said he’s not sure he would vote for a health care reform bill that doesn’t include a public option.But Democratic Rep. John Salazar of the Western Slope, who attended Obama’s Grand Junction meeting, has voiced doubts the public option would pass. In a newspaper interview, Salazar also questioned the value of the rowdy town halls because neither chamber of Congress has yet decided what bill to consider.”We don’t even know what we’re commenting on,” Salazar told the Steamboat Pilot & Today.In the Senate, freshman Democrat Michael Bennet has held perhaps the most talks on health care, keeping a breakneck recess schedule of sometimes three or four meetings a day. But even Bennet has had to clarify his position.Bennet told The Denver Post he doubted the public option could pass, eliciting howls from left-leaning bloggers. The Bennet campaign released a video montage of the senator telling crowds he supports the public option.Colorado’s two Republicans have held town hall meetings, too, but have a much clearer line. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman both oppose the proposed overhauls, calling them too expensive and meddlesome. Coffman said in an interview last week that the health debate would be a “blue-on-blue” fight.”I think Republicans will be on the sidelines, and Democrats will fight it out,” he said.So did Colorado’s Democrats hone a strategy for health care changes over the recess?At least one – Markey – says leaders in Congress will likely make changes based on the recess meetings. She wouldn’t guess publicly what those changes might be.”I believe that what we’ll come up with will look very different than it does right now,” Markey said.