FORSYTH — More people turned out for U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall’s town hall meeting Wednesday than he’s seen in a long time, he said during his introductory remarks at the gathering that drew more than 450 people from around Georgia.
The discussion at the town hall meeting in Forsyth focused with almost no deviation on the topic of health care.
And while Marshall was able to keep the crowd, which spilled outside the auditorium of Mary Persons High School, under control with the help of a moderator, those in attendance demonstrated their unabashed anger over some of the health-care reform proposals being considered in Washington with their hands and their feet.
When one questioner firmly stated his opposition to government health-care coverage of illegal immigrants, the audience sprung to its feet and gave the speaker a vigorous round of applause.
“I am completely opposed to our tax dollars being used to protect illegal immigrants,” Marshall said in response.
Marshall repeatedly told the audience that as currently written, he is opposed to all five bills being drafted in Congress.
When one member of the audience asked, “What are you going to do to protect the citizens of Georgia from those types of outcomes,” after listing problems with the bills.
Marshall said, “I’m going to vote no on all of those bills.”
In the congressman’s opening remarks, he attempted to explain to the audience the health-care crisis America is facing.
“Overall, we get about a C grade for a health-care system that costs twice the average in the developed world,” he said. “We are on a path that’s going to bankrupt the government.”
But the remarks that prompted the audience to give Marshall thunderous applause was, “People don’t really like bureaucrats getting between them and their health provider.”
He went on to explain that meant health insurance company bureaucrats and government ones alike.
Jesse Dumas, of Forsyth, attended the meeting.
He said he thought it was well conducted. While he said politicians never directly answer the questions, he said he was glad people had a chance to express their feelings.
Dumas said the last town hall he attended was run by former Sen. Herman Talmadge, who left his seat in 1981. The issue of health-care reform made him come out this time.
Lee Millwood, of Forsyth, said she thought there were some “really great questions.”
“I want no part of health-care reform,” she said, which motivated her to attend the meeting.
Earlier in the day, Marshall spoke to more than 130 people inside the Douglass Theatre in Macon.
He told that audience he hasn’t made up his mind on health-care reform, but any major changes must address the long-term fiscal problems that ever-increasing health costs are causing for the country.
It is “widely conceded,” Marshall told a morning chamber of commerce gathering, that “we’re bankrupting the country.”
The four-term Democrat from Middle Georgia stopped short of taking a final position on the current proposals though, whether they include a government funded “public option” or the subsidized co-ops suggested as a potential compromise in Washington.
“Whatever we can do, we can’t wander too far from what physicians (and other health-care practitioners) are comfortable with,” he said.
Even as Marshall and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., held public meetings on health care Wednesday, the ground was shifting. Various media outlets reported Democrats might go it alone on health-care reform, dropping efforts at bipartisan compromise. Other reports said the White House would continue seeking bipartisan support.
A move by the administration to go it alone would make more conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats such as Marshall even more key to the process, though Marshall said he doubted his vote would be courted as heavily as others. Offers to win his vote “would have to be astounding,” he said.
Marshall said a government-run system, given the inherent inefficiencies, doesn’t sound like a good choice. But neither does the current system, he said, given the profit-motive insurance companies have to deny coverage. He also said it’s “difficult to see” how a hybrid system, where government insurance programs compete with private companies, would work.
Outside of the Douglass Theatre, a band of nearly 40 protesters waited for Marshall, led by local radio host Chris Krok.
Megaphone to his mouth, Krok shouted at the theater that Marshall should “stop hiding.” When Marshall exited and approached the crowd, Krok demanded a yes or no answer: Would Marshall support a government-sponsored health-care plan?
“I don’t know,” was the reply.
“Boo!” the crowd shouted.
Marshall engaged members of the crowd and eventually seemed to mollify them, even if it was clear that he didn’t give all the answers they wanted.
Two sheriff’s deputies stood watch, and seven Macon police officers looked on as Marshall was surrounded by protesters.
By the time Marshall finished answering questions, some of the heads that were shaking no had started shaking yes. Krok led a round of applause and thanked Marshall for taking time to speak to the group.
“I’m going to do what I think the right thing is. ...” Marshall said. “I am not voting for any of the plans that are on the table right now. ... If I vote in favor of a particular system, I’m going to use it myself (for health care).”
Marshall has another meeting scheduled Monday, from 6-8 p.m. at VFW Post 6605, located at 1011 Corder Road, in Warner Robins.